Earlier this summer, I asked the question: “Should Tech Literacy and Writing Across the Curriculum Be Joined?” (12 June, 2012). My answer was yes for three main reasons:
1. The goals of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Technology Across the Curriculum (TAC) are nearly identical.
2. Writing and technology are already interwoven into one another and into our modern lives.
3. Our students must be able to communicate and use technology effectively.
That’s why I found the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report card so intriguing. This is the first time that computers have been used in the composing process on the test, and the students’ knowledge of computer-aided writing was tested along with their composition skills. The results from the NAEP reveal three important disconnects in writing instruction: the usage and accessibility of technology, the achievement gap of minorities, and the large gender divide.
As Education Week’s Nora Fleming explained in her post, “NAEP Shows Most Students Lack Writing Proficiency,”
“students not only responded to questions and composed their essays on laptop computers, but also were evaluated on how frequently they used word-processing review tools, such as “spell check” and editing tools such as copying and cutting text. Some prompts also featured multimedia components” (14 September, 2012).
The test began to include the use of technology because of the increasing importance of composing with it in the digital age, and many colleges and employers require this skill. The NAEP intends to continue requiring that tests be taken on computers.
According to Fleming, teachers who took part in this test were also surveyed on how often writing was done on computers in their classrooms. Not surprisingly, the more frequently that computer usage occurred, the better students did on the exam.
The problem, then, is largely one of access to quality equipment and software. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), although 97% of teachers had at least one computer in the classroom in 2009, the ratio of students to computers was 5.3:1. Furthermore, when it came to using computers during instructional time in their classrooms, 40% of teachers said they did so “often” and 29% said they did so “sometimes.” The statistics for using computers in other areas of the school were 29% “often” and “43%” sometimes.
The fact that less than one-half of teachers are using their computers in their own classrooms or in other parts of the building implies there is more of an issue here. As a former high school teacher who had three computers, I suspect many teachers have the same frustration with existing technology that I did. The computers and software were so outdated, they weren’t worth using most of the time.
Finally, as Nick Pandolfo shared in the Hechinger Report, this “plunge into technology” tends to leave the poorer schools [and their students] behind (14 January, 2012). Quite simply, schools that have less financial support do not have the money to buy hardware or software, let alone pay the ongoing expenses related to the supporting infrastructure and technical support.
Usage of technology in the schools impacts student usage outside of school, too. It’s not surprising, therefore, that only 27% of the 8th and 12th graders who took the test scored at or above the proficiency level (Fleming, N., 14 September, 2012).
As Fleming explained, most of the 73% of students who did not score at or above the level of proficiency fell into two main groups. The first of these is minorities. As the results chart below, shows, white and Asian students scored above the 27% average at 34% and 44% respectively while Black and Hispanic students fell well below the average at 11% and 14% respectively.
Given that the scores for minority students drop nearly to the single digits in 12th grade and that these results mimic those of previous tests, the disconnect between writing instruction and the proficiency of minorities continues to be a concern.
The other main group to fall short of the average score of 27% at or above proficiency was male students who scored at 18% while female students placed at 37%. The continuing gender gap revealed in writing instruction is also of concern. In fact, according to the NCES, this gender gap in writing competency as well as in reading has been a trend since 1971 (Bowen, K., 2003). Although there are many theories as to why this gender gap exists, one of the more recent theories is that the feminization of curriculum is causing boys to tune out and drop out when it comes to education.
One Step Forward
The good news is that incorporating technology into the NAEP tests is a step forward. The WAC/TAC link can not be ignored in writing or in education. It’s time also to look at the three disconnects between writing instruction and 1) technologically disadvantaged students; 2) minority students; and 3) male students. Although solutions require more than a single blog post, in general, our society needs to step up and support all schools and all of their students in having equal opportunity to resources and learning. Forty plus years of disconnects in the instruction of writing are forty too many.
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