Share this article!

Early Analysis of PARCC Results Shows Some Students Lack the Digital Literacy Skills for Success in Online Testing

We may think of today’s students as “digital natives,” with devices in their hands from pretty much the time they are able to hold them. But, does this mean they have the digital literacy skills necessary to navigate in school, college and life?

A stark indication of the digital skills gap comes from data recently released by PARCC, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.  PARCC delivered new Common Core exams to five million K-12 students around the country last year, most of whom took the test by logging onto a computer. However, about one in five took the exam with paper and pencil, and those students scored higher than students who took the online tests, according to Education Week. The education newspaper said that while hard numbers from across the states that took the PARCC test are not yet available, the advantage for paper-and-pencil test-takers appears in some cases to be substantial.

The analysis shows examples, such as the vast differences in student results across Illinois. Thirty-two percent of the 107,067 high school students who took the PARCC English/language arts test online, scored proficient compared with 50 percent for the 17,726 high school students who took test with paper and pencil. That represents a 56-percent improved performance for those students who took the test with paper and pencil.

In Maryland, the same disparity occurred. Baltimore County middle school students who took the PARCC English/language arts exam on paper scored almost 14 points higher than students who had equivalent demographic and academic backgrounds but took the computer-based test.

And the PARCC tests aren’t the only assessments that are demonstrating a performance gap between students who take online tests vs. pencil and paper. A recent U.S. Department of Education study  revealed that online assessments may widen the achievement gap. The study took an in-depth look at the scores of the more than 10,000 fourth graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress computer-based writing pilot assessment. The initial results from the pilot study looked promising with most students able to complete the writing assignments and use online editing tools. However, an achievement and socio-economic gap was revealed when the computer-written essays were compared with a pencil-and-paper test given to fourth graders two years earlier. Average and low-performing, low-income, and minority students performed worse with online tests than with paper and pencil, while the high-performing students performed better.

These K-12 assessments may be the first time that 21st century students are asked to demonstrate their skills and abilities in a digital environment– but they certainly won’t be the last. Tests ranging from professional certifications to driver’s license exams are rapidly making the transition to computer-based testing, ensuring life-long engagement with digital content. To ensure preparation for all aspects of our digital world, in particular computer-based assessment, it is crucial that that digital literacy skills be a key component of all K-12 students’ education.

Keith Oelrich with looking at camera and smiling

Keith Oelrich


Keith Oelrich joined as CEO in 2012. A pioneer in the K-12 online education market since 2000, Keith has served as CEO of several companies which have collectively provided K-12 online education programs to thousands of districts, tens of thousands of schools and millions of students and their families.

Further Reading