The Numbers You Need to See: Computer Access, Student Test Scores and Socio-economics

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Results from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress[NAEP] survey questionnaires inform us that computer access in the home among fourth and eighth graders varied across socioeconomic backgrounds. At the national level, in all states and most large urban districts participants, smaller percentages of lower income students reported having access at home than middle to higher income students. That didn’t take a survey or rocket scientists to uncover this information, either.

On the other hand, lower income fourth and eighth students reported having similar access to computers at school.And, lower income and middle to higher income students at the national level tended to have similar access to computers at school. Somehow, though, there are more questions needed to be asked and answered here. Lower income communities, most logically, at school and at home, show lower numbers than those in higher income areas–almost at all grade levels.

Survey results also show that students’ computer access differ by the types of schools they attend. A higher percentage of 4th graders in public schools had computer access in school than 4th graders in Catholic schools, and a lower percentage of 4th graders in charter schools had access in school compared to those in other public schools. Computer access at school and at home tended to differ for students attending different types of schools:public or Catholic, charter or other public schools.

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At grades 4, 8 and 12, lower numbers of public school students had computer access as compared to Catholic schools. Yet at grade 8, no significant difference was noted between these two schools. Well, that depends on what we call ‘significant’. Any statistical difference or variations of computer access for students and families in the 21st Century IS significant.


The image shows that in reading at grade four, 83 percent of students in public schools reported having computer access at home compared to 94 percent of students in Catholic schools, 86 percent of students in charter schools, and 83 percent of students in other public schools. Eighty-nine percent of fourth-graders in public schools reported having computer access in school compared to 80 percent of students in Catholic schools, 80 percent of students in charter schools, and 88 percent of students in other public schools.


The information provided by the survey offers insights which can be correlated with achievement and test scores/performance variances across grades and socioeconomic levels.Generally, standardized tests are administered to students at certain ‘benchmark’ grade levels. These scores are used to determine how well our nation’s children are performing in school. Scores influence education policies, practices, instructional focus and educational funding, as well.

Should any educator, parent or policy-maker be unclear as to the impact and influence that computer access has upon learning performance,  take a look at the data. Math and Reading are the areas of primary importance to educators, policymakers and parents as well, as measurements of learning outcomes.

In the case of overall improvement on test performance, teaching ‘to the test’ is insufficient. This we know, because that strategy has been utilized in schools across the country, especially schools characterized by lower income student populations, and identified as under-performing  or failing schools. If any significant gains were noted in these state and local school districts, it is but superficial and short-lived.

We can’t teach all students, today or tomorrow, to perform well on tests. We can teach test-taking skills. To perform well, students must gain deep understanding of concepts and ideas. Access to supplemental materials and resources must accompany classroom instruction. Computer access and web-based computer access must characterize the classroom learning of lessons in school. To more effectively and successfully support learning in school, computer access must exist in the home.

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In school settings, each classroom should be equipped with one computer per student-across the board. This is of particular importance for schools serving lower income families, students living in poverty and English language learners. It is among these groups that most under-performing students and schools are identified. Access to computers is essential to academic achievement, and every family should be afforded at least one computer with web capabilities.

Equity in education exists when we ensure that all necessary resources and instructional materials are made available for student use in school, including those available at home, as well. It encompasses a comprehensive view of affording access to technology, instruction and encouragement, equally in order that  each child has an optimal chance to learn and achieve. Just as cell phones are not luxuries, but necessities today, so are desktops, laptops and tablets. Performance measures indicate real differences in test scores. Even when instructional strategies are similarly implemented in the classroom, when factoring in the presence or absence of technology in the home, disparities are apparent.

Once determined eligible, our federal government provides low income families with personal mobile devices for communication in recognition of the needs of these families. Why can’t we design and implement policies which will supply families with computers with the same mindset-necessity? Not only can we increase capacity of young learners, but parents and adult caregivers will benefit from accessing technology, too.

Schools have websites and web pages, but access is not equal in the home of all students and families. Giving cell phones to parents does not change the home-school engagement dynamic, because families are still left with the traditional phone call from school to keep abreast of children’s performance in school. In order that they may better support reading, math and other skills, they, too, need the resources available on the web.

Although this was a survey method of information gathering, relying upon self-reported data, there are takeaways that can be helpful to all as to the importance that computer access holds for achievement and skill-building. Lest we forget that family engagement and sustaining partnerships in education is a component in fostering achievement and improving learning outcomes for children in school. Catholic, charter, or traditional public schools all need equitably distributed computer access to facilitate student success-across demographics. It’s that simple!

Examine the full  NAEP survey, by clicking here.


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