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3rd graders typing

Laurie Udesky/EdSource Today

Kaiser Elementary 3rd graders practice their typing skills in the school's computer lab.

Third-grader Tycho Sedlachek throws his hands up victoriously as he finishes his typing test. It shows he has improved his score for accuracy and speed, and that’s good news, since he and his peers at Kaiser Elementary in Oakland need to know how to type by this spring.

The reason: For the first time in California’s history, millions of students will take the Smarter Balanced online assessments that will measure how well they are doing on curriculum aligned with the Common Core, the new academic standards in math and English language arts being implemented by California and 42 other states.

Even 3rd-graders – the youngest students taking the tests – will be expected to type on a keyboard and navigate and complete the online tests.

While many educators across the state feel confident that their youngest students will be prepared to take the assessments, others are concerned that the test may be a struggle for the youngest test takers in part because they do not have the keyboard, computer and navigational skills older students may already have acquired.

During the field test of the Smarter Balanced assessments last spring, Jeannie Jentzen, who teaches at Pioneer Elementary in Amador County Unified, said, “100 percent” of her 3rd-graders had problems typing. “It was tears, frustration, quitting, and my kids aren’t quitters.”

Younger children may be further disadvantaged if they lack computers or Internet at home or attend schools with limited access to using a keyboard and computer. School districts are responding in a variety of ways to help students overcome the online challenges they must face.

The extent to which these challenges will affect students’ scores is just one of many factors California schools will be dealing with as they enter largely uncharted territory implementing the Common Core State Standards and gearing up to administer the Smarter Balanced assessments beginning next month.

Unlike the annual pencil-and-paper multiple-choice tests that students have taken for the past 15 years – the California Standards Tests – this spring’s Smarter Balanced assessments will require students to manipulate a computer mouse to scroll up and down a page, drag and drop items and write essay questions.

Students in the Kaiser Elementary typing class have been learning typing since the beginning of the school year. “T-Y-T-Y-T-Y-T-Y-T-Y,” sings out 3rd-grader Daisy Fountaine as she practices those two letters on the online typing program called “typing web.” Instructor Aaron Hinde claps his hands together several times and the students join in unison. “Do we have our fingers on the home row?” he calls out. “Yes!” they respond, as he intones “and that is: A, S, D, F, J, K L, semi-colon!”

Kaiser Elementary principal Kathrene Hatzke said that 3rd-grade students at her school have been using computers at school since they were in kindergarten. But they hadn’t had any formal typing classes until this year, when the school decided it was important to provide specific instruction in typing to prepare for the upcoming Smarter Balanced assessments and generally for use with online materials they use in their classes. Hinde, who has held jobs in computer technology, was hired part-time to offer typing classes once a week to all of Kaiser’s students.

Without typing  skills, the new assessments could be difficult for younger students.

“There has been some hesitancy in the field to have 3rd-graders take the test online because of concern that the interface is too complex,” said Walter Way, vice president and head of Assessment Solutions & Design at Pearson, a major curriculum publisher. “They may not understand what the tests are asking them to do because they’re unfamiliar with it.” If those students don’t have access to technology at a young age, Way continued, “when they get to the 3rd-grade test, it could put them at a disadvantage.”

Thomas Hurst, the technology coordinator for the El Tejon Unified School District in southern Kern County, recalled how 3rd-graders in his schools struggled during the field test given to students last spring.

“Just the simple act of logging in became part of the test,” he said, adding that the district’s youngest test takers had trouble typing the 10-digit identification number they had been assigned to log into the new assessment – along with finding the hyphen on the keyboard that was part of the number. Hurst also said that many students at his district’s schools in the heart of the Central Valley do not have Internet access or computers at home.

Data from the most recent American Community Survey showed that 41 percent of households in the city of Fresno did not have DSL, cable modem or fiber optic connections. In the entire state, some 2,241,815 California households – 17 percent – had no Internet access.

“Technology is a critical tool for our next generation to succeed in the global economy, and it starts with a computer and Internet at home,” said Sunne Wright McPeak, the executive director of the California Emerging Technology Fund. “School-improvement initiatives, including Common Core Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments, require students to be proficient in using a computer, and those without a device and Internet at home are being left behind at an accelerating pace.”

Kaiser Elementary 3rd grader Daisy Fountaine practices typing in class in the school's computer lab.

Credit: EdSource Today

Kaiser Elementary 3rd-grader Daisy Fountaine practices typing in class in the school’s computer lab.

“If children are expected to write, which they are, those with weaker keyboarding skills will be disadvantaged – and there are a lot of reasons for that,” said Carol Connor, a professor in the department of psychology at Arizona State University. “Parents may be anti-technology, or their parents may not have computers, or their schools may not have computers or kids spend an hour once a week working on computers.”

Connor has developed online assessments for students as young as kindergarten age and said that to perform well on these assessments, students have to be familiar with computers and be able to write on a keyboard. In a study she and colleagues conducted with high school students, she said, one of the key findings was that students without keyboarding skills were better off taking the test on paper.

A coalition of 20 civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, recently expressed concerns about this issue, and called on Congress as it comes up with a replacement for the No Child Left Behind law to “allow, during a transition period, alternatives to computer-based assessment for students in schools that have not yet provided them with sufficient access to, and experience with, the required technology.”

School officials in a number of districts around the state are offering a variety of ways for young students to become computer literate, which they hope will result in sufficient competency to take the Smarter Balanced assessments.

  • The Fresno Unified School District has trained a dozen teachers how to teach computer skills and typing. The district produced videos of those teachers demonstrating and describing those skills in the classroom, and have used them to train other teachers throughout the district, including those teaching the earlier grades.
  • In the Santa Ana Unified School District, 3rd-graders get an hour each week of typing instruction. In addition, they use computers with keyboards to do research in the classroom, and their parents can check out computers that provide students with Internet access at home.
  • The Garden Grove Unified School District spent $5 million to revamp all of its hardware in its elementary schools. As part of that effort, it offered technology training to teachers and has offered monthly meetings with technology leaders at each school to make sure teachers are on track in preparation for the Smarter Balanced assessments.
  • The Visalia Unified School District has added 6,000 Chromebooks, with several thousand more on the way. It’s also offering technology training for teachers and help from coaches assigned to each grade level, including 3rd-graders. The district has encouraged teachers to have their students publish online and practice the Typing Club web program.

Jeannie Jentzen, who teaches at Pioneer Elementary, part of the Amador County Unified School District, worries that her students don’t have the necessary typing skills to handle the new assessments. Jentzen said that in 3rd grade students are still learning how to find the right words to express ideas. “Then to ask them to synthesize at a very high level and put it in typewritten answers is near to impossible,”  she said.

Her students do get an hour of typing instruction in the computer lab weekly, but also hand write in journals regularly. During the field test of the Smarter Balanced assessments last spring, Jentzen said, “100 percent” of her 3rd-graders had problems typing. “It was tears, frustration, quitting and my kids aren’t quitters,” she said.

“I am not sure most 3rd-graders are ready to handle an all-computer-based test,” said Irvine Unified School District teacher Kelly Tyndale. “Typing is crucial but in the age of the (touch screen) tablet, fewer kids are coming in knowing it. With limited computer lab times, learning keyboarding gets thrown into the mix of taking assessments, learning activities (websites or educational programs) and publishing writing.”

The same is true for Laura Bolton’s 3rd-graders at William Saroyan Elementary School in Fresno’s Central Unified School District. They do their work on tablets, which they know how to use well, but the tablets don’t have keyboards.

That means when Bolton gives typing assignments, and students type on the screen of their tablets, they’re often baffled, Bolton said. “They’re little,” she said. “They don’t understand how to shift to make a capital letter, or that you don’t need spaces before you make a period on the computer. Getting a cursor in the right place, and having to delete something doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for an 8-year-old, it is.”

But with the extra training they are receiving, Oakland principal Hatzke feels her young students should be able to manage the technology part of the Smarter Balanced assessments. The harder part will be the content of the test, she said.

“We still have time to get them ready for using the technology,” she said. “I think it’s going to be OK.”



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  1. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Why should we encourage students at the age of 5 and 6 to spend more time on keyboards- to learn to type? I would think learning to physically write might be a better use of time. There’s an abundance of research warning against early computer usage/screen time. ADHD is highly correlated with it as well as other cognitive delays and effects on executive functioning.

  2. Caroline Grannan 2 years ago2 years ago

    My original comment on this post requested that EdSource please back up this line in the article: "While many educators across the state feel confident that their youngest students will be prepared to take the assessments..." Frankly, I'm pretty sure I can spot a line that an editor insisted on throwing in to add "balance." So I'd like to see that backed up -- can anyone cite even one such educator, or at least one … Read More

    My original comment on this post requested that EdSource please back up this line in the article: “While many educators across the state feel confident that their youngest students will be prepared to take the assessments…”

    Frankly, I’m pretty sure I can spot a line that an editor insisted on throwing in to add “balance.” So I’d like to see that backed up — can anyone cite even one such educator, or at least one in a school in a non-high-wealth community?

    Someone has probably already made the point that “screen time” and “computer skills” aren’t the same thing as “keyboard skills.” If not, here it is. Entirely different things.

    Replies

    • Caroline Grannan 2 years ago2 years ago

      And, by the way, I’m from the generation when it was a given that girls (at least middle-class girls) learn touch typing, because we had to have secretarial skills in case we failed to succeed in finding a husband who could support us in the manner to which we hoped to become accustomed. It was standard and normal in school to learn touch typing. But not till high school — certainly not by third grade.

  3. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    I have had feedback from teachers of the early grades that many students in 3rd grade just don't have the fine motor skills to master keyboarding to a level that will allow them to respond "quickly" enough on the test. So that means either an inordinate amount of time to be used for testing or that the student's attention will waver or both. It seems likely that for a while we will not … Read More

    I have had feedback from teachers of the early grades that many students in 3rd grade just don’t have the fine motor skills to master keyboarding to a level that will allow them to respond “quickly” enough on the test. So that means either an inordinate amount of time to be used for testing or that the student’s attention will waver or both. It seems likely that for a while we will not be measuring content mastery for some students as much as we are measuring those motor skills as well as general familiarity with technology.

    I’m not sure the decision to turn to computerized testing was done in an entirely thoughtful manner. The zeit geist seemed to be that classrooms and students “need” to be inundated with technology. And to implement a new testing system and not make it computer based was just so passé. Obviously student readiness, expense, and timelines for implementation were not thoroughly considered. This is a problem when political and “pop” enthusiasm gets ahead of classroom reality. I do not recall any compressive survey of classroom teachers being in evidence when the decisions were made. To raise substantive objectives would have immediately led to accusations of being a Luddite.

    However, this is common to the history of education. There is always some technological secret sauce that is going to turn the classroom world on its head. To this point in time, that has not been the case.

    Then, of course, there were the various cheerleaders from industry slated to reap substantial profits fro this change and that are given undue respect for their opinions on education.

    And everyone, from the legislature, to the CDE, to the SBE, teachers, unions, et al, have been criticized by the media and the public-school-criticism-industrial-complex because there will be a two year hiatus from student test scores. This created a situation when taking the time to do proper, field tested, and instructionally appropriate implementation would not have been politically possible. The charge of being “afraid of accountability” is taken by some as comparable to a charge of witchcraft in Salem. And about as reality based.

    The wise choice, as had advocated here from various parities, would have been to provide for an adequate funding stream for those project that does not detract from other more vital spending, a pilot program that could have dealt with issues like student readiness, and a timeline that stretched over 5 to 7 years. (About the time it is said industry takes to roll out a new product.) Schools will be getting 2 or 3 years before they are being held accountable for the above issues that are mostly out of their immediate control. Which is par for the accountability course.

    Then there are the vital concerns about “validity and reliability,” which will not be in place before the accountability kicks in. (This statement is contrary to the advertising by SBAC.) Again, deja vu all over again. We had some validity and reliability with the old system (though I think ETS claimed much documentation of that was proprietary), but there is wide spread agreement that the CST system and testing was simplistic and did not demand the higher order thinking that is now considered necessary. (My classroom experience would suggest this is true.) So as important as validity and reliability are, they are far less so when that they are being applied to tests that don’t test what kids need to know and be able to do.

  4. navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

    If those students don’t have access to technology at a young age, Way continued, “when they get to the 3rd-grade test, it could put them at a disadvantage.”

    That’s impossible. Common core includes computer skills in its targets, and even assumes them as a basis for other core competencies. If young students are not getting access to technology and being instructed in it on a daily basis then that school/district is not implementing common core, plain and simple.

    Replies

    • Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

      Excuse me, are saying, navigio, that Common Core teaches computer skills, which are, in my mind, different from keyboarding skills? Computer skills include, but are not limited to, understanding how computers work, what kind of work can be accomplished with them, etc. Keyboarding skills are picked up along the way, in my opinion (I started like el, "hunt-and-pecking", and now can almost do touch typing). Having said that, if a good score in the test depends … Read More

      Excuse me, are saying, navigio, that Common Core teaches computer skills, which are, in my mind, different from keyboarding skills?

      Computer skills include, but are not limited to, understanding how computers work, what kind of work can be accomplished with them, etc. Keyboarding skills are picked up along the way, in my opinion (I started like el, “hunt-and-pecking”, and now can almost do touch typing).

      Having said that, if a good score in the test depends on the ability to write fast with a keyboard, then these tests are not what they are advertised to be. Again, we are getting a pig-in-a-poke.

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      Navigio, if you look at the simple logic you employ (if A=B and B=C, A=C) it doesn't compute because we already know that a large percentage of students do not receive some or all of CC-informed instruction.The decision to go with computers was taking the trial by fire option. Was the heavily researched developmental appropriateness of early computer usage ever a consideration? IME, computer access to instruction should start in 4th and 5th grades … Read More

      Navigio, if you look at the simple logic you employ (if A=B and B=C, A=C) it doesn’t compute because we already know that a large percentage of students do not receive some or all of CC-informed instruction.The decision to go with computers was taking the trial by fire option.

      Was the heavily researched developmental appropriateness of early computer usage ever a consideration? IME, computer access to instruction should start in 4th and 5th grades and students should begin computer-driven testing in 6th or 7th. There’s simply too many negative neurological findings to support adding more screen time to K-3 instruction.

      • Ze'ev Wurman 2 years ago2 years ago

        Actually, Don, navigio was using Common Core first grade standard ("Order three objects by length; compare the lengths of two objects indirectly by using a third object.") when he expected (A=B and B=C, A=C). Should also work with (A>B and B>C, A>C). Now, we will find this spring if our newly minted geniuses under Common Core will be able to handle this abstraction in first grade (smile). As to typing, SBAC must have conducted testing about … Read More

        Actually, Don, navigio was using Common Core first grade standard (“Order three objects by length; compare the lengths of two objects indirectly by using a third object.”) when he expected (A=B and B=C, A=C). Should also work with (A>B and B>C, A>C). Now, we will find this spring if our newly minted geniuses under Common Core will be able to handle this abstraction in first grade (smile).

        As to typing, SBAC must have conducted testing about the different functioning of P&P forms versus computer forms — can we see those, please? After all, some of our students will take the test on a computer, other will use paper and pencil.
        Further, SBAC must have conducted testing about the different functioning of fixed P&P forms versus computer-adaptive sequences on a computer — can we see those, please? After all, some of our students will take the test on a computer, other will use paper and pencil.

        What do you mean we cannot see the results of those evaluations? So how do we know those highfalutin tests are “valid and reliable” as the law requires?

      • el 2 years ago2 years ago

        I was laughing about the conflict between the compact our school was expected to create and send home to all kids and parents about “limiting screen time” at home while all of a sudden we’re panicking about kids not getting enough screen time in the classroom.

        • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

          The screen time at home is usually something quite different than the screen time at school. Regardless, there are many schools where kids get zero screen time at school unless parents pony up to fund it. Even now, when sbac/cc arguably create an implicit requirement that schools provide in-school technology, I am seeing schools funding their own technology using parent donations. I guess thats ok though, we do the same for libraries.

          • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

            “The screen time at home is usually something quite different than the screen time at school.”

            Not according to most pediatric neurologists and early childhood experts. At this stage from age 0 to 6-7 neurological pathways are physically growing their networks of neurons and the medium is the message, not the content so much.

            • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

              You may be surprised to learn that school continues past first grade.
              Regardless, there are also some kids who dont even get the medium at home.

            • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

              Surprise, surprise, surprise- Gomer Pyle

              I am surprised. Ideally, you don’t want kids on computers or screens of any kind for the first few years of life. That said, those who aren’t exposed will not compete well on Pavlov’s Dog type experiments, typing and such, but teachers might be pleased not to have classes full of screen whizzes and typists. That’s a nightmare for K2 teachers, but it paves the way for early computer adaptive tests.

    • el 2 years ago2 years ago

      As far as I recall, and I could be wrong about this, Common Core and SBAC imply the need certain computer skills, but I don't remember them being called out explicitly. The document that districts are passing around as 'common core computer skills' was written at the school district level, by Fresno and Long Beach IIRC. They basically did things like say, "Okay, the third grade test requires short answers typed into free response boxes, … Read More

      As far as I recall, and I could be wrong about this, Common Core and SBAC imply the need certain computer skills, but I don’t remember them being called out explicitly. The document that districts are passing around as ‘common core computer skills’ was written at the school district level, by Fresno and Long Beach IIRC. They basically did things like say, “Okay, the third grade test requires short answers typed into free response boxes, so they need to be fluent touch-typers by then.” I’m not sure that anyone looked at that with the question “Is it reasonable to expect third graders to touch type fluently” and interestingly, although one could test that ability explicitly and easily on a computer exam, as far as I know it is not tested directly. (That would be an interesting bit of calibration data, no?)

      This document suggests that kids will “Master” touch typing by 2nd grade. I can only conclude that my definition of “Mastery” is quite a bit more rigorous than theirs.

      • navigio 2 years ago2 years ago

        The ELA standards not only mention using technology and the internet explicitly, they also have keyboarding standards, though they are rather vague (eg number of pages in a ‘single sitting’, etc).

  5. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    Something for everyone to understand is that among the 17% of households without internet, not all are because the household is directly impoverished; in many rural areas internet is not readily available, certainly not broadband. Not even all California schools have broadband. Bringing this access in can be a way to get lines in to create access for the community as well, especially if local providers are allowed to build them out (often the … Read More

    Something for everyone to understand is that among the 17% of households without internet, not all are because the household is directly impoverished; in many rural areas internet is not readily available, certainly not broadband. Not even all California schools have broadband. Bringing this access in can be a way to get lines in to create access for the community as well, especially if local providers are allowed to build them out (often the large carriers have acted to block such activity).

    A lot of people who do have internet have it via phones, which is quite different in terms of developing skills relevant to taking the SBAC… if that’s really our benchmark for the computer skills our kids need anyway.

  6. Farrell Podgorsek 2 years ago2 years ago

    It's not just third graders. Typing skills are not taught during the school day by most teachers at my school, regardless of grade level. Students' scores will be affected by their lack of typing skills, regardless of their mastery level of the subject matter. I work at an urban school with a high percentage of low-income families. The majority of our families do not have electronic devices at home with full keyboards, such … Read More

    It’s not just third graders. Typing skills are not taught during the school day by most teachers at my school, regardless of grade level. Students’ scores will be affected by their lack of typing skills, regardless of their mastery level of the subject matter. I work at an urban school with a high percentage of low-income families. The majority of our families do not have electronic devices at home with full keyboards, such as a computer or Chromebook. When are these kids supposed to develop the typing skills necessary to take the test? I’m not blaming the teachers. With the high number of required minutes per student on Adaptive Learning programs required by our District, along with the rest of the curriculum, where is the time to devote to typing instruction supposed to be taken from?

  7. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    This is a question that I honestly don't know the answer to: when is the right age to teach keyboarding skills? When do they acquire it the fastest and most efficiently? When are their hands large enough to reach the keys and their fine motor skills up for a touch-typing style sequence? I learned to touch type in high school (before then, as one of a lucky few with computer access and a typewriter, I was … Read More

    This is a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to: when is the right age to teach keyboarding skills? When do they acquire it the fastest and most efficiently? When are their hands large enough to reach the keys and their fine motor skills up for a touch-typing style sequence?

    I learned to touch type in high school (before then, as one of a lucky few with computer access and a typewriter, I was an adept two finger typist). But, we learned by typing something someone else wrote (ie, since I was a girl I was trained to be a secretary typing up a letter) and the skill of being able to touch type and compose my thoughts was probably a couple years after that.

    I am open to any answer, but I would like to see this actually studied by experts who understand child development rather than being pushed down based on what is required to take a government-mandated exam. And then, I’d like there to be real time in the curriculum to develop it, and real resources given to every school to facilitate kids having access to computers on a regular basis.

    The other question I’d have is how much paper and pencil writing time kids need for development of fine motor skills and other important development, and if we are accidentally shorting that. If we’re not giving it back through writing, can we give it back through art or other activity?

  8. John H 2 years ago2 years ago

    It's the data not presented here that's the most concerning - namely how many schools are NOT providing keyboard skills instruction, or who are yet to perform a meaningful skills analysis. The technology gap in our students' lives is every bit as real as the achievement gap and tends to act to further disenfranchise our poorer students, and/or the schools struggling to serve them. Whilst stories like the above illustrate the positive steps some schools … Read More

    It’s the data not presented here that’s the most concerning – namely how many schools are NOT providing keyboard skills instruction, or who are yet to perform a meaningful skills analysis. The technology gap in our students’ lives is every bit as real as the achievement gap and tends to act to further disenfranchise our poorer students, and/or the schools struggling to serve them. Whilst stories like the above illustrate the positive steps some schools are making, our research suggests these schools are perhaps in the minority, leading to a troubling ‘cultural bias’ in the tests’ administration. A follow up story on schools that are not making these preparations would be welcome. Thanks

    Replies

    • Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

      Our research? Please give us some link to this research. Thank you.

  9. Caroline Grannan 2 years ago2 years ago

    A fifth-grade teacher whose kids took a practice test told me that the most skilled writers were writing at first-grade level in the test because they had to use a keyboard, which they’d never done before. Forehead smite.

    (Back this up, please: While many educators across the state feel confident that their youngest students will be prepared to take the assessments…)

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