Online Tests Challenging for Low-Income Baltimore Students - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Online Tests Challenging for Low-Income Baltimore Students

Baltimore teachers are blaming poverty and low income on why their students scored near the bottom in math and reading in a national assessment last year. The online test saw many students from poorer households who have limited access to computers struggle to complete the test due to their poor computer skills, putting them at the bottom of the results table.

Only 13% of students proficient or advanced

The test results found that for reading at fourth and eighth-grade level, only 13 percent of the Baltimore students could be considered proficient or advanced. Meanwhile, in fourth-grade math, just 14 percent of students were found to be proficient and in eighth-grade math, 11 percent achieved the right level. Baltimore did, however, come above Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Fresno, California in some subjects. All areas which themselves experience high poverty and crime.

Limited access to computers widens the achievement gap

With 23.3 percent of Baltimore residents and 34.4 percent of the city’s families living in poverty, many children do not have regular digital access and only have access to computers once a week at school. However, at Govans Elementary School in North Baltimore for example, the 450 students have to share just 70 computers, iPads, and laptops between them. This has left many teachers concerned that the online version of the national test only serves to widen the already significant achievement gap between students.

$140 million technology contract

Some areas are gradually beginning to look at what can be done to help students and their families to fund the school equipment they desperately need. And there’s good news for Baltimore students. Following the approval of a $140 million technology contract, Baltimore County will become one of the first districts in the state to provide each of its students with a free laptop that they can use at school and for older students to also use at home.

Professor Jessica Shiller from Townson University believes that without having regular access at home to computers and high-speed internet, many students will simply continue to miss out on the opportunity to develop the essential skills required to excel in online school tests.

Four times less likely to have broadband

A study by the Pew Research Centre in 2015 found that families with a low income are around four times less likely to have broadband internet compared to their middle or upper-class peers.This gap becomes even wider for students from black or Hispanic families. Professor Shiller believes that enforcing an online-only test becomes a measure of income rather than skill.

To truly create an even playing field where all students have a fair access to learning and equipment, more needs to be done to support schools and families to ensure they have the technology they need to help unlock our children’s potential.

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