How computers affect student performance, the good and the bad

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REGULAR use of computers can have an effect on student performance on standardized tests, according to a new study by researchers at Boston College and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
Analyzing test performance and computer uses of 986 fourth grade students from 55 classrooms in nine Massachusetts school districts, the study found that the more regularly students use computers to write papers for school, the better they performed on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems (MCAS) English/Language Arts exam. This positive effect occurred despite the fact that students were not allowed to use computers for the test.
Conversely, the study found that students’ recreational use of computers to play games, explore the Internet for fun, or chat with friends at home had a negative effect on students’ MCAS reading scores. Similarly, students’ use of computers to create PowerPoint presentations was also negatively associated with MCAS writing scores.
This study of students’ MCAS performance is part of the “Use, Support and Effect of Instructional Technology” (USEIT) study conducted by the Technology and Assessment Study Collaborative of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. Funded by the US Department of Education, USEIT is a three-year assessment of educational technology that occurred across 22 Massachusetts districts.
The MCAS achievement component of USEIT is the most sophisticated analysis of the relationships between students’ computer use and test performance conducted to date. Building on several shortcomings of past research on this topic, this study collected detailed measures of a variety of student uses of computers in and out of school, controlled for differences in home learning environments, separated effects of teachers’ instructional practices, and controlled for differences in prior achievement by using third grade MCAS scores.
In addition to analyzing the effect of a variety of uses of computers on students’ total MCAS scores, this study also examined the sub-scores provided by the MCAS test. At a time when standardized testing is playing an increasingly important role in shaping the learning experiences of students and instructional practices of teachers, the researchers believe this study provides evidence that students’ computer use does have an impact on student achievement as measured by tests like MCAS. More importantly, they say, the study demonstrates that different uses of computers have different effects on student learning.

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