With answers becoming so accessible that students can find them with just a click of the mouse, it’s understandable that some may worry that technology is becoming more of a hindrance and less of an improvement to education. For students who saved their summer reading until the last minute, finding detailed book summaries has become relatively easy. With the variety of online games now being offered, a student can become distracted from that math homework that still hasn’t been started. Despite the negative reputation that technology can often earn when placed in context with the learning environment, it can also be used as a resource for students to enhance their writing skills.

This is exactly what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a nationally representative assessment of students’ academic progress, hopes to achieve by introducing computer-based assessments of writing proficiency.  Students answer the essay questions in this test via laptop computers using prompts that include multimedia elements. The desire to appeal to a tech-savvy student population sparked the shift from paper-and-pencil tests to computer-based assessments. It seems that more teachers and instructors are trying to upgrade their tools and variety of mediums in order to keep the interest of the typical twenty-first century student.

Because of this use of technology, the governing board of the NAEP modified the assessment prompts themselves to include multimedia components. On the new writing NAEP, eighth graders are asked to imagine that they had arrived on a remote island. To help them visualize this, they were provided with audio containing nature sounds and recordings of lines read from a journal. Students used these artifacts to then compose their essays. Students who worked with computers on a daily basis performed better than those less familiar with the functions of word processors and less accustomed to using computers to edit their writing. Beverly Ann Chin, a professor of English at the University of Montana, notes: “When teachers encourage students to use word processing features on a regular basis, students learn how computers can facilitate their writing processes and improve their final product.” Hopefully these skills will help students improve their writing proficiency.

It’s an exciting possibility, and there seems to be no time like the present, since the findings from this exam revealed that only 27 percent of students in both seventh and eighth grade tested at or above the proficiency baseline in 2011. 37 percent of females in the eighth grade class scored as proficient or above, while only 18 percent of boys did.

The governing board of the NAEP hopes to raise these numbers by continuing to introduce technological skills that will help make students more successful in writing. They hope that getting students accustomed to composing and revising their written work on computers using word processors will help improve the writing proficiency among grade levels. As technology and computers continue to become essential parts of the workplace and classroom, it’s fitting that mastering these mediums will aid in the overall success of the student. As Ms. Chin also adds, “Students who are skilled in using technology tools in writing will be more successful in school, the workplace, and society.” It seems that technology is becoming less of a problem and more of a solution in this instance.