SCSU study shows teens read slower, understand less on computers

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The Common Core is another in a long line of successive pushes to get high-stakes testing done on computers. However, little research has been done on how teenagers’ reading comprehension performance is affected by taking a test on screen vs. taking it on paper. A study overseen by SCSU Professor Hak Joon Kim  showed teens read 36% slower and score 15 points lower when taking reading comprehension tests on screen.

Professor Hak Joon Kim, Chair of the Information and Library Science Department at Southern Connecticut State University, conducted the study of teens’ reading performance with his daughter Joan Kim, a student at Cornell University.

108 Connecticut high school seniors took one of two reading comprehension tests. One group of students worked on LCD monitors. The other group took a paper test.

The results were startling. The average score for the paper group was 75.67 while the LCD group clocked in at a meager 60.50.  “We thought that performing on paper would be better, but the research clearly shows that it is so much better,” said Dr. Hak Joon Kim.

Teenagers also strongly preferred taking tests on paper. “Among female teenagers, 93% preferred a paper medium for their reading tests while nearly 75% of the male teenagers preferred a paper medium to an LCD medium,” said Dr. Kim

This is not a matter of habituation. Today’s teens are technological natives: computers, the internet, and cell phones have been around their whole lives. “They are already comfortable with screens. I myself read most of my emails and student papers on screen rather than printing it out…Even though teenagers are familiar, they still prefer paper,” said Dr. Kim.

He says the push to computerize testing isn’t coming from students or educators but from administration. “It basically reflects the administrative side rather than the student side…We are in a big transition from paper to digital wherever possible because of cost, trend, and convenience,” he said.

He believes students should be able to elect whether they take a test online or on paper. “The majority of students who prefer and do better on paper are at a disadvantage. In order to make it fair there should be an option,” said Dr. Kim.

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