Another Common Core dilemma: Will the littlest learners be able to type?

When Tania Nyman’s 9-year-old son decided a year ago to type a page of his homework rather than handwrite it, the experiment did not go well.

“It was painful to watch him type and how long it took,” said Nyman, who lives in Baton Rouge. “He managed it, but it was a slow process.”

Next school year, the 9-year-old’s keyboarding skills will once again be put to the test.

Quite literally. In the spring 2015, Louisiana school children will start taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, an online standardized test aligned with the new Common Core educational standards.

The writing component of the test requires fourth-graders to type a minimum of one page in a single stretch; fifth-graders must type at least two pages.

Schools have been wired for well over a decade and most secondary and college students are expected to type, rather than handwrite, their essays.

But asking students as young as eight and nine to type several paragraphs on a standardized test will challenge schools — and students — in new ways.

In an attempt to ward off disaster, school leaders are contemplating adding keyboarding classes, introducing online assessments in kindergarten, and taking students to the computer lab for writing class.

Some local educators say they are worried about low-income students who text with ease in an age of cellphones, but generally have less exposure at home to computers and more-expensive mobile devices, such as tablets, than their middle-class peers.

“I’ve heard professional development leaders say most kids have been on iPads since they were 2,” said Katie Patterson, the director of Common Core strategy for the nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans. “That’s not a true statement for kids in poverty.”

Forty-two percent of New Orleans schoolchildren live in poverty, nearly double the national rate.

The PARCC will require a leap on both a cognitive and technical level, says Patterson.

Louisiana’s old standardized tests, the iLEAP and LEAP, asked young students to write a paragraph in response to a short reading passage.

Unlike the PARCC, the old tests did not require students to cite evidence from the text or type their response.

As a result, many New Orleans schools now consider keyboarding skills — including how to type quickly, use a mouse, or click and drag — as foundational for young children as handwriting.

At the three New Orleans charter schools operated by the Choice Foundation and at NOLA College Prep charter school, administrators hope students will learn largely through practice. This year, all students at the schools started taking an online test known as Measures of Academic Progress for the first time, partly in an effort to ensure they are ready for PARCC in a year and half. Schools use tests like MAP internally to see which skills they need to work on over the course of a school year; the state does not use results to grade a school’s performance.

“We were not using online assessments at all,” said Susan Jurkunas, the systems accountability officer at the Choice Foundation. Jurkunas said school officials were nervous the first round of MAP testing in late August would be disastrous, with the kindergarteners in particular “totally discombobulated.”

Overall, the students were more at ease than their teachers expected, particularly with using a touch screen.

“They just see computers as a game,” Jurkunas said, but the younger children struggled with manipulating the mouse and typing — skills that can’t be learned from the casual use of cellphones or smart phones.

“Kids would hunt and peck really fast,” Jurkunas said.

Ben Kleban, the CEO of NOLA College Prep, said he hopes to find a way to squeeze keyboard classes into the regular school day in addition to the MAP testing. He has struggled so far to find time while also double-dosing students in math and English to catch them up to grade level.

Nyman, whose two sons attend public schools in Baton Rouge, knows her sons might need the extra help. Like the students at the Choice Foundation charter schools, they are adept at touch screens thanks to time spent playing games like Minecraft, but they have had little exposure at home to a keyboard and mouse.

She is leery, however, about setting aside additional class time for preparing students to take standardized tests.

“You already see the loss of arts and music,” Nyman said.

“If my son wants to learn to type of his own volition, I would say, ‘Sure go ahead honey,’ ” she added. “But if it’s only because online tests make it easier for companies to grade, I would ask, ‘Is it (typing) really a practical skill that third-graders need?”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.