As Louisiana continues to implement more rigorous academic standards, students are required to exhibit higher level, critical thinking skills. Upon full implementation of these standards, Louisiana students in grades 3-8 will no longer take the current state standardized test, known as the LEAP; rather, they will take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). PARCC is a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in skills necessary to be prepared for college and careers. Compared to current state testing, the PARCC assessment for ELA/Literacy will look much more deeply at students’ writing abilities and critical-thinking skills. PARCC is on track to be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.
Based on the premise that students in the digital age process should be prepared to function in a technology-rich society, the PARCC is a completely computer-based assessment. No longer will students bubble in answers or handwrite essays. Therefore, it is imperative that students be proficient in typing and navigating the computer (i.e. using a mouse, dragging and dropping, etc.).
However, in preparation for the more rigorous assessment, the necessity of students’ ability to type has been overshadowed by the heavy focus on academic content. Ironically, students’ test scores could potentially be affected more negatively by their inability to type than their ability to think.
Automaticity refers to the ability to perform complex skills with minimal attention and conscious effort. Automaticity is essential for higher‐level thinking in reading and writing, because important subskills must be performed accurately, quickly, and effortlessly. For example, if reading subskills are performed automatically, then higher‐level aspects of the task, such as comprehension or metacognitive functions, can be performed effectively at the same time. In other words, the less brain space used for processing lower-level tasks allows for more brain space (working memory) to focus on higher-level tasks, such as developing ideas and critical thinking.
Handwriting automaticity is a strong predictor of the quality of writing composition. If letter production is automatic, memory space is freed up for higher level composing processes, such as deciding what to write about, what to say and how to say it. This is one of the reasons some claim that cursive is important – because cursive is faster and more efficient than printed writing, students can better focus on organizing and expressing their ideas rather than forming letters and words. In today’s technology-rich society where most written communication is done via a computer, smartphone, and other electronic devices, typing is 21st Century handwriting.
If children do not type fluently, the quality of their writing portion on the PARCC will suffer. The time and brain space dedicated to finding letters on the keyboard will interfere with students’ ability to think critically, develop complex ideas and concepts, and express those ideas and concepts clearly, accurately and well-organized. Consequently, students can potentially score two grade levels below their actual intellectual capability simply because they lack fluency and speed in typing. The ripple effect is the potential increase in the number of students being retained, which can then lead to decrease in motivation, loss of trust in the school system, increase in drop-out rates, and, ultimately, the complete opposite of the goal that implementing higher standards is intended to achieve.
To ensure kids’ performance on the new standardized tests (PARCC) is a true reflection of their intellectual capability by reducing the cognitive interference imposed by the lack of technology and keyboarding skills, the Center for Development and Learning has received a $25,000 grant from the NOLA Access Initiative.
Through the grant, CDL will partner with Morris Jeff Community School (MJCS), a charter school in New Orleans, to accomplish two major goals: (1) providing access to learning experiences that are personalized and adaptive to increase students’ keyboarding and digital literacy skills, and (2) ensure a fully integrated curriculum through specialized, effective teacher professional development.
In its 4th year of operation, MJCS currently offers grades Pre-K (4 year olds) through 5th grade, serving approximately 410 students. They plan to grow by one grade level each year until they have a full Pre-K through 8th grade school. Morris Jeff is the only elementary school in Louisiana with the IBO World School designation, and is one of the most racially and economically diverse open-access public schools in the history of New Orleans. The school offers a rigorous curriculum that infuses foreign language, the arts, physical education, and global awareness into core subjects (math, reading, language, science, social studies) through cross-disciplinary units of study. It is one of 17 schools overseen by the state’s Recovery School District that has shown consistent adequate improvement in school performance.
See this wonderful article highlighting our work to learn more about this great initiative.
 Samuels, S. J., & Flor, R.F. (1997). The Importance of Automaticity for Developing Expertise in Reading. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 13(2), 107-121 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/1057356970130202#.Uo5sr6V5kYU.
 Graham, S., Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Abbott, S., & Whitaker, D. (1997). The Role of Mechanics in Composing of Elementary School Students: A New Methodological Approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 170–182.
 Berninger, V. (1999). The “Write Stuff” For Preventing and Treating Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ldanh.org/docs/writestuff.pdf.