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Computerized Writing Assessments May Widen the Achievement Gap

Computerized Writing Assessments May Widen the Achievement Gap

According to a paper from the National Center of Education Statistics titled "Performance of fourth-grade students in the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing pilot assessment,” computerized writing assignments might hurt the achievement of low-performing and low-income students.

"The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted a computer-based pilot writing assessment at grade 4 in 2012, based on the 2011 NAEP writing framework. A key question that this pilot assessment was designed to answer was whether or not fourth-graders could fully demonstrate their writing ability on a computer,” says the paper’s introduction.

The NAEP found that while most students could complete their assignments and use the editing tools correctly, low-and-middle performing students created better content when using paper and pencil instead.

"While high-performing fourth- graders are able to fully display their writing abilities on the computer, low- and middle-performing fourth-graders may not be able to—based on an analysis of 15 tasks common to the 2010 pilot writing assessment on paper and the 2012 pilot writing assessment on the computer that aimed to minimize the effects of confounding variables, such as task difficulty and accessibility,” the paper said.

And though the study found that high-performing students excelled when using a computer and most improved their writer scores, it found that low-and-middle performing students did not benefit at all.

With this in mind, they concluded that computerized writing assignments might very well widen the achievement gap.

The researchers behind the study, according to the Hechinger Report, speculated that the reason for the difference in performance could be because low-performing students were not as likely to have internet access at home.

"In the study, high-performing students — the top 20 percent of the test takers — produced an average of 179 words per assignment on the computer, three times the number of words that the bottom 20 percent produced. They also used spellcheck, backspace and other editing tools far more often. The researchers found that these high-performing students were more likely to have access to a computer and the Internet at home,” the Hechinger Report said.

Experts advise that if a writing assignment is to be completed with a computer, teachers should spend time working with all students to ensure they are familiar with typing and editing tools.

Read the full paper here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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