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Today’s students are often described as “digital natives,” living with devices in their hands from pretty much the time they are able to hold them. But, data shows that this doesn’t necessarily mean they have the digital skills necessary to succeed in online assessments.

In recent years, the majority of state assessments around the country such as PARCC, Smarter Balanced and ACT Aspire are being administered online. The movement continues around the country; Texas is just beginning to administer their STAAR assessments online in a pilot phase during this school year. Around the beginning of this shift, in 2014, a Gallup poll found over 70% of elementary school teachers felt their students were “not well prepared” with respect to having the necessary technology skills to be successful in the upcoming online assessments.

There were many examples across the country where students who took the online assessments via paper-and-pencil scored significantly better than their peers who took the tests online. A U.S. Department of Education study of the writing skills of 10,000 fourth-graders found that students performed better on the writing tests using pencil and paper than they did using the computer. The differences were even greater for students considered average- or low-performing, minority, or low-income. The average length of written responses was 30% lower on a computer as compared to the paper responses. In published studies from Illinois and Maryland, for example, students taking the state exams on paper scored significantly higher than students taking the exams online.

At the end of the day, this boils down to a lack of fluency in keyboarding (or typing) and discomfort with computer basics such as using a mouse to click and drag. Students are thinking about their fingers on the keyboard, not their answers to the questions.

It might be assumed that, after the pandemic-induced remote learning experience of the past two years, this gap would be eliminated. However, we still see signs of this digital skills gap. One of our customer districts in Texas recently reported that, as they started to pilot the online STAAR assessment this year, the students who took the STAAR test online scored 20% worse than the students who took the exam on paper.

We at have been working for years to help ensure our partners’ students are well-positioned with the digital skills to be successful in online state assessments. In fact, in several studies we have done with our partner districts, covering over 30,000 students, we’ve seen results consistently showing that students using our flagship product can see improved performance on these exams. In fact, students who are top users of EasyTech earn proficiency rates on these math and ELA exams that range from 1.5 times to 7 times the proficiency rates of low- and non-users.

The pandemic has brought to light the reality — and challenge — of the digital skills gap even for our “digital natives.” We’re working with our partners to help prepare students for success in a digital word. This spring, the focus may be on success in online assessments. But as our world moves increasingly online — with telemedicine, online banking, remote work and remote learning — the digital skills students gain now will be essential to success in every season of their lives.


Learn how’s award-winning digital literacy curriculum can help achieve digital equity in your district today!

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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.

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