Academic Skills on the Web Are Tied to Income Level

Poundstone, Heather

Rich, M.  (2014). Academic skills on web are tied to income level.  The New York Times. Retrieved from
Rich explores research showing that wealthy students are more likely to achieve better results on tests than poor students.   It goes onto further explain that with the advent of the Internet, new research has found that poorer students have a harder time than their wealthier peers in using information literacy skills to find information.   This research was done by Donald J. Leu for the Reading Research Quarterly, using a small sample of students.  It shows that all students lack information literacy skills, but there is a wider gap between wealthy students and their poor counterparts.  The research shows that while students may be tech savvy and able to use the Internet for social media, they are unable to access reliable information.   The research focused on seventh-graders from two Connecticut middle schools, analyzing their test scores and information literacy assessments.   Students who came from homes from a higher socio-economic status exhibited skills somewhat more than an extra school year’s worth of online reading ability compared to students from a middle class background.    The researchers were unable to study students from a lower socio-economic status.  Rich explains that information literacy skills are necessary for students to be successful in school and beyond.  He further explains that most teachers do not teach these important skills due to the fact that they misunderstand their importance and how these skills can be used in education.  They also assume that students can navigate the internet to meet their information needs.    The research also found that students in the lower income school were required to use the internet for school assignments 22% less than their wealthier peers.   Even though the wealthier students spent more time on the Web finding information, when assessed as to whether they could determine the reliability of facts on a web page, only 25% were able to do so.  16% of the lower income students were able to complete the same assignment.  The research found that the gap between these student’s skills was smaller than anticipated.   Some schools are expanding their information literacy instruction, but with the implementation of the Common Core Standards, many are concentrating on text based learning.   Teachers do not realize that students have difficulty evaluating sources for reliability, whether it is textual or digital.  Both are important and should be taught.   

From my readings that I have completed in the course of my time at SJSU, I was not surprised by the findings of this research.  Numerous research has pointed to the fact that most people have difficulty with information literacy skills, even graduate students.  I did expect there to be a gap between wealthier students and poor students due to the fact that wealthier students have far more opportunities to interact on the Web.  Having worked in inner city education for the past 16 years, I have seen the disadvantages that poor students face.  Most of them have limited access to technology and the Internet at home, come from backgrounds where their parents have limited education and are unable to help or motivate their children, and where children have few literacy opportunities at home.  I was somewhat surprised that wealthier students did not have better information literacy skills, but it proves the point that people are generally overconfident in their ability to find reliable information.  This is why teacher librarians are important and these skills should be taught from kindergarten on!   Imagine if every school had a teacher librarian and students were taught information literacy skills from day one.  Students would be information literacy experts by the time they graduated from high school and have the 21stCentury Skills they need to be successful!  I think that this article does a good job in pointing out the importance of teaching all students these valuable skills and hopefully school districts will start listening and make this a priority by hiring credentialed teacher librarians for every school!

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