Underrepresented Minority Students in Four Urban School Districts: a Study of Technology Usage and Student Academic Performance in Math Grades Four and Eight

Olivia Majesky Blackmon

Advisor: James Witte, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Rutledge M. Dennis, Joseph A. Scimecca

Commerce Building, #4006
April 16, 2015, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


Over the past two decades, access to technology at home and in schools has increased significantly. While nearly all children have access to technology, there continues to be an ongoing debate over the effect of technology on student achievement. Studies have demonstrated inconclusive results, with findings revealing both statistically significant positive and negative results. Researchers believe these debatable results are attributed to using simplified regression models to examine the relationship between technology and student achievement in mathematics based on race/ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic status, while analysis should explore a multi-level approach due to the nested nature of student data (Wenglinsky, 2005 and Warschauer, 2011). Since students are organized at more than one level, and nested within the context of their environment, a multi-level approach using Multi-Level Modeling (MLM) could potentially lead to more conclusive and meaningful results. Thus, the purpose of the research study is to examine a multilevel model utilizing MLM to determine if technology access, frequency, usage have an impact on grade 4 and 8 mathematics student achievement across four areas of investigation: home effects, overall-school effects, teacher effects, and student-reported classroom effects.

At the home-level, studies have repeatedly shown that software and hardware technology access and usage impact student achievement in the classroom (Berliner, 2009 and Sirin, 2005). At the school- and classroom-level, research has illustrated that access to technology can impact student achievement; however, little research has been conducted on the effectiveness of didactic (i.e. drill and practice) vs. constructivist (higher order thinking) technology approaches implemented within the classroom. Additionally, of particular interest are the roles that teachers’ exposure to professional development in technology and specific uses of computer technology play in the relationship between student computer usage in the classroom and student achievement in mathematics.

In order to explore these multi-level relationships, this study utilizes restricted data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to evaluate the impact of technology on math grade 4 and grade 8 achievement in 2009 and 2011. The research focuses on four urban school districts (Trial Urban District Assessment or TUDA) and compares them to large city, and nation-wide populations. The study has several key findings. Both home and classroom access had an overall positive effect on math standardized scores for both grade-4 and grade-8 at the national and urban district levels. However, the type of computer applications used by the students and teachers had varying effects. While didactic approaches to computer technology improved scores for grade 4 math students, didactic approaches significantly decreased scores for eighth graders. However, grade 8 teachers who reported using constructivist technology approaches to math significantly increased test scores across the nation, in Large Cities and in the TUDA school districts. Grade 4 students of teachers who participated in training in software applications, integrating technology and advanced training had significantly higher standardized test scores; teacher computer competency did not have a significant effect on grade 8 math achievement.