Technology access and good learning environments make a difference when it comes to student achievement.
That is a key lesson from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, which showed across-the-board declines in achievement in reading and math due to the pandemic.
A teacher, a quiet place to study, internet access at home as well as school, all these things, when done right, are going to make a huge impact.
The achievement scores showed that higher-performing students were more likely to have access to laptops or other computing devices, an internet connection, a quiet place to work at home, school supplies, and daily, real-time lessons than lower-performing students, according to teacher survey data released last month alongside student results on the NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.
More than half of 4th graders—58 percent, according to the math survey—learned remotely during at least part of the 2020-21 school year. But conditions for learning outside of school were very different for students who scored in the top quartile (the high-performers) than for many of those who scored in the bottom quartile (the low-performers).
The most striking finding: High-performing students were more likely—in some cases, significantly more likely—to participate in real-time virtual lessons with a teacher, every day or almost every day. For instance, nearly three-quarters—71 percent—of high-performing 8th grade math students received those lessons, compared with under half—41 percent—of low-performers.
The differential for 8th grade reading was even more dramatic, with 74 percent of high-performers participating in daily or almost daily virtual lessons, compared with just 39 percent of low-performers.
The percentages were closer for younger students, but still showed significant gaps. Fifty percent of high-performers for 4th grade reading had daily access to real-time virtual lessons, compared with 37 percent of low-performers.
Access to technology, proper learning environments matter
Access to technology also had a significant effect on achievement. For example, for 4th grade math, 80 percent of high-performing students had access to a desktop or laptop computer, or a tablet, all of the time. But just 50 percent of low-performing students could say the same.
Proper learning environments were also a big influence on achievement:
- 90 percent of high-performing 4th grade math students had a quiet place to work available at least some of the time, compared with 70 percent of low-performing students.
- 89 percent of high-performers had constant access to school supplies, compared with 61 percent of low-performers.
- And 87 percent of high-performers had access to an internet connection at least some of the time, compared with 71 percent of low-performers.
Survey results for 4th grade reading, and 8th grade math and reading revealed similar gaps.
Overall, student scores on the NAEP plummeted, revealing the devastating impact of disrupted pandemic learning. Results for students who took the test in spring 2022—the first main NAEP administration for these grades since the pandemic began—show the biggest drop in math performance in 4th and 8th grades since the testing program began in 1990.
It’s obvious that reliable technological tools—and real-time lessons—were essential for effective virtual learning, said Joseph South, the chief learning officer for the International Society for Technology in Education.
It brought to his mind an analogy: a patient who is trying to get substantial meals in liquid form. “If you had a little bit of access [to those tools] then you were sucking your nutrition through a tiny straw,” he said. “If you had a lot of access, it was like drinking out of a giant glass. If you got no access, then you weren’t getting any nutrition at all.”
That analogy will continue to be true, South emphasized, as schools move to a more-digital model of delivering instruction. “A teacher, a quiet place to study, internet access at home as well as school, all these things, when done right, are going to make a huge impact,” he said.