Computer-based testing widens achievement gap between boys and girls


Research from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) shows that computer-based testing widened the achievement gap between boys and girls in two thirds of the 32 countries and city states that took part in a trial run of the PISA maths test, after it was switched from paper and pen to computers late last year.

However, the study’s author, Dr John Jerrim, was surprised to find that the on-screen test helped to close the performance gap between 15-year-olds from the highest and lowest socio-economic groups.

Dr Jerrim’s research also reveals that pupils from a third of the countries and city states involved achieved significantly poorer results in the computer tests than they did in the paper assessment.

Other countries, such as Brazil, the United States and France, benefited from the switch to computers.

PISA, which stands for Programme for International Student Assessment, is the most influential benchmark for national education standards and has affected government policy in many countries, including the UK. Many educationists and commentators regard it as the world’s most important exam.

Dr Jerrim said: “In those countries where girls were negatively affected by computer testing the gender gap in performance widened by 7 points, which is roughly the equivalent of two months’ educational progress.

“However, computer testing narrowed the gap between rich and poor pupils by 5 points. It is unclear why the test produced these results as one would have expected that children from better-off families would have had more access to computers and be able to adapt more easily to on-screen testing.”

He went on to say: “It now seems likely that a statistical adjustment to the 2015 results will be proposed, so previous results can be compared. Nevertheless, academics, policymakers and journalists will need to take special care when interpreting results from PISA 2015.”

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