There is much evidence that students who have regular access to computers in school write more than students who don't, and improve more in their writing proficiency, Warschauer said. The majority of K-12 students have access to computers at home, and the rest can usually use computers at libraries or other locations, he added.
"However, to help ensure that all students learn to write with computers, digital media needs to be better integrated into instruction at school, including making available low-cost laptops to students who are unable to bring their own to school," Warschauer concluded.
A path forward: NAEP's first computer-based writing assessment was not intended to report results for individual states, nor report on performance of individual students. Instead, the new test is meant as a report card for the nation as a whole.
The news that only one-quarter of secondary-school students write proficiently comes at a time when many schools must raise instructional standards to meet requirements of the common core state standards. Pimentel said the NAEP survey showed that schools need to assign more writing projects. She theorizes that schools' recent push for reading proficiency might have decreased emphasis on writing.
"There is a reading/writing connection," she said. "We're hopeful that a whole lot more writing will be taking place in schools. That should make a difference in the coming years."
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