Scores and Screens

Standardized test scores decline as computer use increases among low-income students
October 1, 2010

In the first half of the past decade, personal computers became commonplace in many American homes. They were supposed to bring benefits in education and close the achievement gap between students from different economic backgrounds, but according to a new study out of the Sanford School of Public Policy, that isn’t necessarily what’s happened.


Professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd analyzed data about how 150,000 North Carolina middle-school students’ standardized test scores were affected by the presence of a computer in the home. They looked at a period of five years, from 2000 to 2005, which allowed them to compare the same children’s reading and math scores on annual standardized tests before and after their families acquired a home computer. Students also reported how frequently they used a home computer for schoolwork.


Once a computer entered the home, researchers say, the results were mixed. In homes where parents monitored their child’s computer use infrequently, which is more common in low-income families, scores went down. During the unsupervised time, the students were using the computers primarily to socialize or play games instead of for educational purposes, the researchers found.