Given the vast amount of data that the US Department of Education released today regarding student academic performance in math and reading, it will take a while for researchers to make sense of all the questions they are interested in exploring. My interests are primarily about the impact of access to and use of computers and the internet on student performance. I also am interested in mode effects (i.e., whether experience taking exams on a computer yields different estimates of student performance than on paper, based primarily on prior student exposure to and comfort with digital learning technologies).

This post will be the first in a series exploring specific questions in which I am interested. Take them as works in progress, story ideas, and subjects for further and deeper analysis.


Question: Does home access to a computer (or tablet) and the internet make a difference on the math performance of 4th and 8th grade students?

The data – for public schools and urban districts nationally – show:


Based on the above two items (administered to both 4th and 8th grade students), one could reasonably conclude that home access to the internet and a computer or tablet is very important for student math achievement (as measured by NAEP). However, without further information about how (or why) home internet and computers are associated with better math scores, we could easily be misled.

These data portray a different (and more complicated picture):


Apparently, using school websites for math help outside of school is negatively associated with NAEP performance. Daily use of math websites seems to have a particularly negative effect on test scores in both 4th and 8th grades.

Some further questions:

  • Could it be that students who regularly seek out more help online are less equipped to benefit from it? (Maybe.)
  • Are math websites for students effective at helping them to master concepts and operations on which they are confused? (Apparently not.)
  • If home access to the internet and computers is associated with better student performance in math, what exactly are students doing with the technology at home to improve their knowledge?
  • Could home access to the internet and computers be actually serving as a proxy for other measures that are more predictive of student performance (such as SES or housing stability)?

I’ll return to these questions for the subject of reading next.