As more and more schools work to fund and integrate new technologies in the classroom, some researchers questions whether or not students benefit from technology in the classroom. Gadgets like computers, tablets and digital white boards are quite costly and a new report questions whether the investment is worth it.
Analysis of student survey data and results from the federal exams known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Center for American Progress, a nonprofit, revealed that middle school math students more commonly used computers for basic drills and practice than to develop sophisticated skills. The report also found that no state was collecting data to evaluate whether technology investments were actually improving student achievement.
“Schools frequently acquire digital devices without discrete learning goals and ultimately use these devices in ways that fail to adequately serve students, schools, or taxpayers,” wrote Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the author of the report.
The analysis of the N.A.E.P. data found that 34 percent of eighth graders who took the math exams in 2011 used computers to “drill on math facts” while less than a quarter worked with spreadsheets or geometric figures on the computer. Only 17 percent used statistical programs.
The federal survey data showed striking differences among racial groups and income levels. More than half of the black students who took the eighth-grade math exam in 2011 said they used computers to work on math drills, while only 30 percent of white students said they did.
Similarly, 41 percent of students eligible for free and reduced lunches said they used computers for math drills, compared with 29 percent of students whose families earn too much for them to qualify for the lunches.
In high school science classrooms, the use of technology evidently has not advanced much past the 1980s. According to the report, 73 percent of students who took the 12th-grade National Assessment science exam said they regularly watched a movie or video in class.
Such data, Mr. Boser said, suggested that technology “doesn’t seem to have dramatically changed the nature of schooling.”
Experts who study the effectiveness of instructional technology say there is potential for some digital programs to improve teaching. John Pane, a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation, said good technology allowed students to work at their own pace and independently while teachers worked with smaller groups.
Mr. Pane conducted a study, financed by the federal Department of Education, of an algebra software program created by Carnegie Learning, a math curriculum developer. He found that high school students who used the program, which was designed to accompany a teacher-led curriculum, showed gains on their state-standardized math tests that were nearly double the gains of a typical year’s worth of growth using a more traditional high school math curriculum.