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Equity & Diversity

Charter School 4th Graders: Less Access to Computers in School, More At Home

By Benjamin Herold — September 18, 2018 3 min read

Fourth graders who attend charters are more likely than their counterparts at traditional public schools to have access to a computer at home, but less likely to have access in school.

In addition, lower-performing 8th graders are more likely than their higher-performing counterparts to have teachers who say they use computers every day or almost every day in reading and math.

Those are just some of the findings from a new web report released yesterday by the National Center for Education Statistics. Titled “2015 Survey Questionnaire Results: Students’ Computer Access and Use”, the analysis is based on an examination of survey questionnaires and achievement data from the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, exams.

Overall, the report focuses on students’ access to computers at home and in school, as well as the different ways students report using the technology in the classroom. It tracks closely with a 2017 Education Week Research Center analysis of the same data for our annual Technology Counts report. There, we found that even as classrooms have been inundated with new devices and software, students most often reported using school computers for activities involving rote practice, and there was a persistent divide between high- and low-poverty schools when it comes to teachers who say they’ve received training on how to effectively use technology.

Among the fresh findings in the new NCES report is a look at computer access by student performance and school type.

On average, the report found, “students without computer access at home scored lower on both the 2015 NAEP mathematics and reading assessments compared to their peers who reported having access.” Eighth graders with a computer at home averaged a scale score of 285 points (out of 500) on math, compared to 262 for students without access at home.

And when it came to school type, 88 percent of 4thgraders in traditional public schools who took the 2015 NAEP reading exam had computer access in school, compared to 80 percent of those in charter schools. But at home, slightly more charter-school 4thgraders (86 percent) than traditional-public-school 4th graders (83 percent) had computer access.

In addition, the report found, lower percentages of all public-school students (including charter) in grades 4, 8, and 12 had computer access at home compared to Catholic school students.

How Teachers Use Classroom Technology

There were also noticeable differences in how the teachers of lower- and higher-performing students reported using classroom technology.

Sixteen percent of 8th graders who scored below the 25th percentile on the 2015 NAEP reading exam, for example, had teachers who said they “used computers every day or almost every day to increase reading fluency and comprehension.” That was higher than the 11 percent of higher-performing 8thgraders, who scored at or above the 75thpercentile on the exam.

Tremendous variation existed from state to state, as well.

How many 4th graders had teachers who said they used computers every day or almost every day to practice/review math topics? The national average was 25 percent, but the range extended from 15 percent in California to 47 percent in the District of Columbia.

Similarly with middle school reading: In Delaware, just 3 percent of 8th graders had teachers who reported using computers every day or almost every day to increase reading fluency, compared to 28 percent in the District of Columbia. The national average was 13 percent.

Overall, NCES found plenty of signs of increased classroom computer usage over time.

“Computer use once or twice a week increased by as much as 5 percentage points in mathematics classes and 6 percentage points in reading classes between 2013 and 2015,” according to the newsflash announcing the report, sent Monday by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Photo: Getty


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.