Maine’s Laptop Program is Improving Student Writing? Not so fast…

Read the full report | On October 24, 2007, the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine released a report which claimed that the state’s five-year-old middle-school laptop program was “creating better writers.” It backed up this conclusion with three sets of data that, on the surface, appeared to confirm just that. A closer look at the data, though, suggests that the authors of the study stretched to reach a conclusion that is simply not supported by the facts.

The report began, for instance, by analyzing what it calls “self-reporting” data, which means that analysts used survey instruments to ask students and teachers if they thought that the laptops had made the students into better writers. The report states that “70 percent or more of the students think the laptops have facilitated their learning.” Yet, a careful look at even this highly unscientific data suggest that the report’s authors are reaching. For instance, more than 80 percent of students did indeed have some level of agreement with the statement that “I am more likely to edit my work when it is done on the laptop,” but one would expect them to say that, given how much easier it is to edit written work electronically than on paper. The same could be said of the second question put to students, which asked if they thought they were “getting work done more quickly” using the laptops. They reported, as one would expect, that they were.

But do the students think their writing is actually better, as opposed to simply faster and easier? The report’s own data suggests that they are not so sure. Only half of the students surveyed said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they “do more work with the laptops” or that the “quality of [their] work has improved” since using laptops, and less than 40 percent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they were “better able to understand their school work” when using laptops.

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