NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

Students’ Access to the Internet and Digital Devices at Home

This blog continues a robust discussion about National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data collected in the recent past that can illuminate the issue of students’ access to the internet and digital devices at home. A few years ago—well before the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders shone a bright light on the inequities across the nation—NCES began dedicating resources to improve its data collection and policymaking around education technology and equity at the district, state, and national levels.

The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading questionnaire asked 4th- and 8th-grade students if they had internet access at home and if there was a computer or tablet at home that they could use (referred to in this blog as having “digital access”). These data provide a pre–coronavirus pandemic snapshot of students’ digital access. Across all public schools, 81 percent of 4th-grade students and 88 percent of 8th-grade students said that they had digital access (figures 1 and 2). Thus, 19 percent of 4th-grade students and 12 percent of 8th-grade students in public schools may not have either access to the internet or the devices required to carry out distance learning.  


Figure 1. Percentage of 4th-grade public school students in the NAEP reading assessment that reported having internet access and a computer or tablet at home, by state: 2019

* Significantly different from the National Public estimate at the .05 level of statistical significance.
NOTE: Statistical comparison tests are based on unrounded numbers. Not all apparent differences between estimates are statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 Reading Assessment.


Figure 2. Percentage of 8th-grade public school students in the NAEP reading assessment that reported having internet access and a computer or tablet at home, by state: 2019

* Significantly different from the National Public estimate at the .05 level of statistical significance.
NOTE: Statistical comparison tests are based on unrounded numbers. Not all apparent differences between estimates are statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 Reading Assessment.


There were also differences across states in 2019. For 4th-grade students, the percentages who had digital access varied by state, ranging from 70 percent in New Mexico to 88 percent in New Jersey (table 1). Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming had lower percentages of students who had digital access than the national average (figure 1 and table 1). For 8th-grade students, the percentages who had access ranged from 81 percent in Oklahoma to 93 percent in Connecticut (table 1). Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia had lower percentages of students who had access than the national average (figure 2 and table 1).


Table 1. Percentage of public school students in the NAEP reading assessment that reported having internet access and a computer or tablet at home, by grade and state: 2019

 

Grade 4

 

Grade 8

 

State

Percent

s.e

 

Percent

s.e

 

   National public

81

(0.2)

 

88

(0.2)

 

Alabama

79

(1.2)

 

86

(0.8)

Alaska

 

 

Arizona

78

(0.9)

84

(0.9)

Arkansas

73

(0.9)

83

(1.1)

California

81

(0.9)

 

88

(0.9)

 

Colorado

 

 

Connecticut

85

(0.8)

93

(0.6)

Delaware

81

(0.9)

 

90

(0.6)

 

District of Columbia

83

(0.8)

90

(0.6)

DoDEA

88

(0.7)

96

(0.4)

Florida

85

(0.7)

89

(0.7)

 

Georgia

83

(0.9)

90

(0.7)

Hawaii

79

(1)

 

86

(0.8)

Idaho

77

(0.9)

88

(0.8)

 

Illinois

83

(0.8)

90

(0.6)

Indiana

80

(0.9)

 

90

(1.1)

 

Iowa

81

(0.9)

 

90

(0.7)

 

Kansas

78

(0.9)

88

(0.7)

 

Kentucky

81

(0.8)

 

87

(0.7)

Louisiana

79

(1)

 

85

(0.9)

Maine

82

(0.9)

 

89

(0.7)

 

Maryland

82

(0.8)

 

91

(0.6)

Massachusetts

87

(0.8)

93

(0.7)

Michigan

80

(1)

 

90

(0.8)

 

Minnesota

83

(1)

92

(0.7)

Mississippi

77

(1.2)

84

(0.7)

Missouri

78

(0.8)

89

(0.8)

 

Montana

 

 

Nebraska

81

(0.9)

 

90

(0.7)

Nevada

79

(1)

 

85

(0.7)

New Hampshire

 

 

New Jersey

88

(0.8)

93

(0.6)

New Mexico

70

(1.2)

82

(0.8)

New York

84

(0.7)

91

(0.7)

North Carolina

81

(0.8)

 

89

(0.8)

 

North Dakota

81

(1)

 

90

(0.7)

Ohio

82

(0.9)

 

91

(0.7)

Oklahoma

73

(1.1)

81

(0.9)

Oregon

77

(1)

87

(0.8)

 

Pennsylvania

85

(0.8)

91

(0.7)

Rhode Island

84

(0.8)

90

(0.6)

South Carolina

81

(1)

 

90

(0.9)

 

South Dakota

 

 

Tennessee

77

(0.9)

86

(0.9)

Texas

75

(0.9)

82

(1)

Utah

 

 

Vermont

81

(0.9)

 

91

(0.7)

Virginia

82

(0.8)

 

91

(0.8)

Washington

80

(1)

 

89

(0.8)

 

West Virginia

81

(1)

 

86

(0.7)

Wisconsin

83

(0.9)

 

91

(0.7)

Wyoming

78

(0.9)

88

(0.7)

 

↑ Significantly higher than the estimate for National Public at the .05 level of statistical significance.
↓ Significantly higher than the estimate for National Public at the .05 level of statistical significance.
‡ Reporting standards not met. Sample size insufficient to permit a reliable estimate.
† Not applicable.
NOTE: Statistical comparison tests are based on unrounded numbers. Not all apparent differences between estimates are statistically significant. “National public” refers to the results for all students in public schools.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 Reading Assessment.


Looking at the results of NAEP’s 2019 Trial Urban Districts Assessment (TUDA), Miami-Dade, Florida, had the highest percentages of 4th- and 8th-grade students who had digital access (88 percent and 93 percent, respectively) (table 2). Fresno, California, had the lowest percentage of 4th-grade students (67 percent) who had access and Dallas, Texas, had the lowest percentage of 8th-grade students (73 percent) who had access.


Table 2. Percentage of public school students in the NAEP reading assessment that reported having internet access and a computer or tablet at home, by grade and Trial Urban District Assessments (TUDA): 2019

 

Grade 4

 

Grade 8

 

Large city

Percentage

 

Percentage

 

   All large cities

78

 

85

 

Albuquerque

75

 

85

 

Atlanta

82

86

 

Austin

78

 

83

 

Baltimore City

73

84

 

Boston

81

89

Charlotte

83

91

Chicago

80

 

88

 

Clark County (NV)

78

 

84

 

Cleveland

74

80

Dallas

71

73

Denver

 

 

Detroit

70

79

District of Columbia (DCPS)

83

90

Duval County (FL)

84

89

Fort Worth (TX)

72

88

Fresno

67

77

Guilford County (NC)

78

 

85

 

Hillsborough County (FL)

81

 

87

 

Houston

71

75

Jefferson County (KY)

82

88

Los Angeles

76

 

85

 

Miami-Dade

88

93

Milwaukee

75

 

85

 

New York City

81

 

89

Philadelphia

78

 

86

 

San Diego

81

 

90

Shelby County (TN)

78

 

86

 

Significantly higher than the estimate for Large City at the .05 level of statistical significance.
↓ Significantly lower than the estimate for Large City at the .05 level of statistical significance.
‡ Reporting standards not met. Sample size insufficient to permit a reliable estimate.
NOTE: Statistical comparison tests are based on unrounded numbers. Not all apparent differences between estimates are statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 Reading Assessment.


In 2019, higher percentages of 8th-grade students than of 4th-grade students had digital access. This pattern was consistent across all states and TUDA jurisdictions. On average, in both 4th and 8th grades, higher percentages of students in suburban areas than of students in cities, towns, and rural areas had access (table 3).


Table 3. Percentage of public school students in the NAEP reading assessment that reported having internet access and a computer or tablet at home, by grade and locale: 2019

 

Grade 4

 

Grade 8

 

Locale

Percentage

s.e

 

Percentage

s.e

 

   National public

81

(0.2)

 

88

(0.2)

 

City

79

(0.4)

86

(0.4)

Suburban

84

(0.3)

 

92

(0.3)

 

Town

77

(0.8)

86

(0.6)

Rural

78

(0.4)

87

(0.4)

↓ Significantly lower than the estimate for Suburban at the .05 level of statistical significance.
NOTE: Statistical comparison tests are based on unrounded numbers. Not all apparent differences between estimates are statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 Reading Assessment.


While the NAEP data reveal state-level patterns in students’ digital access before the pandemic, the Household Pulse Survey (HPS) provides insight into the digital access of students across the country during the pandemic. The HPS is conducted by the Census Bureau and seven other federal statistical agency partners, including NCES. Since April 23, 2020, the HPS has provided weekly or biweekly estimates of the availability of computers and internet access to children for educational purposes.

In April 2020, 88 percent of adults who had children under 18 in the home enrolled in school reported that computers were always or usually available for educational purposes. By the end of March 2021, that percentage increased to 94 percent (table 4).

A similar pattern emerged in the HPS data for internet access. In April 2020, 91 percent of adults who had children under 18 in the home enrolled in school reported that the internet was always or usually available for educational purposes. In March 2021, that percentage had increased to 94 percent (table 4).


Table 4. Percentage of adults who had children under 18 in the home enrolled in school who reported that computers and internet access were always or usually available for educational purposes: 2020–21, selected time periods

 

Computers available

Access to internet

 

Percentage

s.e.

 

Percentage

s.e.

 

April 23 to May 5, 2020

88

(0.5)

 

91

(0.4)

 

March 17 to March 29, 2021

94

(0.4)

94

(0.4)

↑ Significantly higher than the estimate for April 23 to May 5, 2020, at the .05 level of statistical significance.
NOTE: Statistical comparison tests are based on unrounded numbers. Not all apparent differences between estimates are statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, selected periods, April 2021 through March 2021.


While these data provide a recent look into the technology landscape for students both before and during the pandemic, there is still a need to collect more and better data to understand digital inequities. For example, future NCES surveys could ask schools, students, and teachers about their technology use and access at home, what resources for learning and instruction they have at home, and the environment in which many students and teachers now find themselves learning and teaching.

 

Resources for more information:

 

By Cadelle Hemphill, AIR; Yan Wang, AIR: Diana Forster, AIR; Chad Scott, AIR; and Grady Wilburn, NCES

Introducing the NCES Ed Tech Equity Initiative

The 21st century American classroom continues to evolve, particularly through the incorporation of technology into K-12 learning. In response to these changes, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) consistently works to ensure our data collections include information on how these changes affect U.S. education.

Technology is changing how teachers teach, as well as what, how, and where students learn. As a tool, technology has the potential to improve our education system by creating more equitable circumstances for all. However, while technology has assisted in improving educational experiences and outcomes for some, inequities persist. That’s why the NCES Ed Tech Equity Initiative was created—to better inform the condition of American education by giving greater focus to the relationship technology has with K-12 students’ education.

Within the framework, we define technology as digital resources (e.g., internet, phones, laptops, tablets, and software). Ed Tech Equity, or education technology and equity, refers to fairness regarding the relationship of technology and students’ educational experiences and outcomes.

THE FRAMEWORK

The Ed Tech Equity Framework serves as the conceptual anchor for the Initiative—it captures the most critical factors that influence ed tech equity as it relates to K-12 education. The framework was created following extensive research and feedback. NCES reviewed existing NCES data collections and reports, as well as relevant research external to NCES. Additionally, we consulted NCES staff and stakeholders, including teachers, principals, and researchers. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at the framework in our next blog post.

EXISTING TECHNOLOGY-RELATED EFFORTS

Another critical step in advancing this work included completing a comprehensive internal review of NCES’ current tech-related efforts to understand what tech-related items are already collected, reported, and disseminated. Through this review, we found that a number of NCES surveys collect and report tech-related information. However, there is room for NCES to improve upon these existing efforts. As one of the first steps in this direction, NCES convened a panel of experts to share their insights and recommendations for ed tech equity data collection, reporting, and dissemination.

OUR VISION

It is important that NCES remains agile in its pursuit of comprehensive and timely data on condition of education across the country. Through this Initiative, we intend to provide researchers, policymakers, educators, parents, and students with user-friendly data that informs the relationship between technology and K-12 education.

While we’ve accomplished a great deal thus far, we’re excited to continue to advance this Initiative and to share our results!

 

By Halima Adenegan, NCES and Emily Martin, Hager Sharp