- At the American Educational Research Association conference earlier this month, Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, discussed U.S. students' performance on a new digital literacy assessment that is part of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), Education Week reports.
- U.S. 4th-graders placed sixth out of 15 participating countries on the test, which measures their ability to navigate a “simulated Internet environment.” The test, conducted in 2016, included 4,100 U.S. students from 153 public and private schools, 38% of whom scored high on the exam while another 18% scored in the advanced range.
- Results of the primary literacy exam showed that U.S. students' general reading ability has slipped over the past five years while the performance of other countries improved during that time frame. But when it comes to finding information on a website, Carr said, "I think it's very clear that our students are more savvy than many of us have given them credit for," the paper reported.
While the results of the new online literacy exam provide a note of good news and indicate that U.S. students are becoming more familiar with online research techniques as computer use has expanded, the test does have limitations. For example, the new test uses pre-selected, age-appropriate passages and does not require that students evaluate the reliability of the material, an important skill in online research in real world situations.
Media literacy is still a looming concern for schools and was, in fact, recently billed by Education Dive as the “Obsession of the Year” for good reason. As the prevalence of “fake news” and questionable sources increase on the Internet, students need these skills more than ever. A 2017 study published by the Stanford Graduate School of Education examined media literacy skills at the middle school, high school and college level and found that most of these students cannot accurately distinguish “fake news” from real news. An analysis of the study indicated that 82% of middle school students “couldn’t tell the difference between sponsored articles and real news stories: and that most high school students “didn’t bother to verify where photos online came from and blindly accepted the photos’ stated contexts.”
Reading skills, in general, however are a rising concern for U.S. schools. The recently released 2017 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is considered more difficult, showed no significant growth in reading at 4th grade. Carr notes that the differences between the tests draw attention to a larger issue: The top-performing students, it seems, are improving in literacy skills while the lower performing students are actually declining, suggesting that schools need to explore multiple ways to support their most struggling readers.