Schools that have failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) are “slightly below average” when it comes to giving their students access to technologies such as multimedia computers, laptops, and high-speed internet service, a new report finds.

Education research firm Market Data Retrieval (MDR) added a new focus area to its annual report that measures technology use in K-12 schools. This year, “Technology in Education 2003” compares schools’ technology penetration and use with student performance and whether the school is considered in need of improvement by NCLB standards.

Thirty-nine percent of schools that failed to meet their states’ AYP standards have laptop computers, compared with 43 percent of all schools. Seventy-five percent of schools in need of improvement have high-speed internet access, while 80 percent of all schools do.

Most striking is the number of teachers using technology in schools that failed to meet AYP, the report said. Sixty-one percent of these schools said the majority of their teachers use the internet for instruction, compared with 74 percent of all schools. Seventy-nine percent of schools in need of improvement said the majority of their teachers use a computer daily, compared with 85 percent of all schools.

One-fourth of schools in need of improvement say the majority of their teachers are beginners with respect to technology, compared with 18 percent of all schools.

When it comes to standardized test scores, 77 percent of schools with above-average results said the majority of their teachers use the internet in their classrooms, and 62 percent said virtually all of their teachers use a computer for instruction daily. Among schools with below-average test scores, 69 percent said the majority of their teachers use the internet in their classrooms, and 49 percent said virtually all of their teachers use a computer for instruction daily.

Kathleen Brantley, director of product development for MDR, said researchers were surprised by the striking disparities between the rate at which teachers in so-called “failing” schools appeared to use technology and the rate at which teachers in higher-performing schools employed similar strategies.

“It was really more about teachers’ ability to use the technology well and use it often than it was about what kinds of technologies were available to the schools,” she said, noting that ongoing professional development for teachers is a critical part of school success.

The report indicates decision makers in lower-performing schools might be aware of the technology gap. Schools in need of improvement spend more money per student on technology than the average American school, the report found. Brantley said this might be because lower-performing schools often find themselves in the position of “playing catch-up,” meaning they are striving to narrow the technology gap with higher-performing schools.

Despite a clear correlation between technology use and school success, educators say it cannot be assumed there is a causal relationship between the two.

“I suspect … that we may find the same factors are related to lack of technology and poor performance, but the lack of technology is not necessarily the cause of the poor performance,” said Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester, N.H., school system.

“Perhaps schools with the least financial resources, in addition to having less technology, are also unable to attract the best teachers because they don’t pay as well as their more affluent counterparts, are located in poorer communities or sections of communities where behavior problems and other issues are known to abound, and have less prestige,” he added.

It’s easy to find a correlation between academic performance and technology use, poverty, teacher qualifications, or a host of other factors, Yeagley said–but it’s much harder to determine which factors are causing what outcomes.

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