Digital Divide

Online test requirements help spur tech innovation at some New Orleans schools

Unless the Legislature changes its mind, next year Louisiana’s third through eighth graders in public schools will start taking new, national tests on the computer. And while that wasn’t the primary motivation for Success Prep Principal Niloy Gangopadhyay to explore broader online learning, it’s helped spur the process. After all, the school had to buy a bunch of new computers anyway, for the tests.

Digital Divide

Digital education may be the future, but most American schools are far from ready. Our series examines the national effort to close the digital divide by connecting all American schools to high-speed Internet, and why so many schools still lag so far behind.

The Promise: Digital education is supposed to transform public education, but many schools can’t even get online

The Problem: Instead of getting ready for the tech revolution, schools are scaling back

The Solution: How can schools close the technology gap and how much will it cost?

Gangopadhyay thought the increased familiarity with computers would improve students’ performance on the tests and make them more comfortable. The school’s seventh graders, “most of them are struggling with technology,” he said. Getting them started on tech earlier “is going to be a lot better.”

Principal Sabrina Pence at Arthur Ashe Charter Academy agreed. She said her school’s computer laboratories could “leave us with a certain level of advantage because our kids are pretty functional with the computer.” However, Ashe’s software programs generally require clicking and dragging, not the typing required to write compositions and explain math answers in the state-mandated Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests coming next year. Ashe has had to add typing lessons, in a pilot writing computer lab.

In this way, testing guides technology purchases. All the new computers bought at Success Prep and Arthur Ashe meet PARCC requirements. It means, for instance, that Success bought 10-inch tablets instead of 7-inch ones.

Louisiana schools may use a paper-and-pencil version of PARCC in 2015, but they must be computer-ready by 2016. The state tested the technology in March. High school end-of-course exams are already given on computers.

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