Low-income Bozeman kids are falling behind their more affluent classmates in technology skills, especially if they have less than an hour a day to use computers at home.

That was one of the achievement gaps in the data showing how well Bozeman fifth-graders are learning writing and technology skills. The information was presented to the School Board on Monday as part of its ongoing education.

This is the first year the school district has had good data on technology skills, said Karin Neff, the district’s data science and accountability specialist.

The achievement gap for poor kids with the least chance to use computers at home raises important questions for teachers, she said.

“More and more class assignments use technology,” Neff said. “Is it reasonable to ask students to complete one hour of technology-based homework?”

Neff’s charts showed that roughly 60 percent of fifth-graders from economically disadvantaged homes scored proficient in technology skills if they had access to computers at home for at least one or two hours a day.

But among low-income kids who had the least access to computers — less than one hour a day — only 25 percent were proficient.

Meanwhile, among kids whose families were better off economically, up to 90 percent scored proficient in technology skills.

Some of the technology skills fifth-graders learn include using spreadsheets, word processing, doing online research and creating digital projects to improve communication.

When it comes to writing skills, the data showed that Bozeman fifth-graders overall have steadily improved in the past four years.

However, there’s a big achievement gap between boys and girls.

In the spring of 2017, some 74 percent of fifth-graders could show proficiency on the school district’s own assessment of writing skills. And on the statewide Smarter Balanced standardized test, they did even better, with 86 percent scoring proficient in writing.

In the past four years, fifth-graders’ writing has steadily improved in all three types of writing they’re taught — argumentative, informative and narrative. Robin Miller, school curriculum director, said the scores are based, not on a single test, but on the body of writing students produce during the school year.

There was a large gap between males and females. Only 59 to 67 percent of fifth-grade boys scored proficient in the three styles of writing. Among girls, 87 to 90 percent showed proficiency in writing.

The standardized Smarter Balanced test showed a similar gender gap, with 80 percent of Bozeman boys scoring proficient, compared to 93 percent of girls.

“The disparity in male and female writing is blowing my mind,” said School Board Trustee Tanya Reinhardt. She added that it’s a nationwide problem. National and international studies have found that boys are behind girls in reading scores, and reading affects writing skills.

Typically, Bozeman boys write less than girls, Miller said.

The charts also showed achievement gaps in writing skills for economically disadvantaged students, with 45 to 53 percent scoring proficient, compared to 73 to 78 percent of all students.

There was an even bigger achievement gap for students in special education, who have different types of disabilities. Just 26 to 36 percent were proficient in writing.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

Gail Schontzler covers schools and Montana State University for the Chronicle.

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