COSTA MESA — If a school gives a kid a laptop, what will happen?
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District handed out about 600 netbooks for students to use as their own last school year.
"I know for certain the students' tech skills improvement scores raised significantly in schools that had netbooks," Jenith Mishne, the district's director of educational technology, said at a recent parent orientation meeting at Paularino Elementary School.
The district gave fifth- and sixth-graders at Davis Magnet, Sonora, Paularino and Killybrooke elementary schools, and seventh-grade science students at Costa Mesa Middle School, netbooks last year after it won a $400,000 federal technology grant.
The district is now funding the program, Mishne said.
The percentage of sixth-grade students who scored proficient on the Tech Literacy Assessment jumped from 65% in 2010 to 97% in 2011; 43% to 71% at Paularino; and 40% to 77% at Sonora.
Killybrooke had the most significant increase — from 47% to 94%.
The sixth-grade assessment measures students' knowledge of computer basics, ethical and unethical uses, online safety, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, multimedia, the Internet, search engines and databases.
The elementary students use the netbooks every day in class and can take them home at night, provided they have the parental consent. Families who agree to take the netbooks home are liable for $350 if the machine is lost or broken beyond repair at home.
Paularino fifth-grade teacher Lisa Roberts, who had nearly every student in her class last year take the netbooks home, said she used the computers in every subject.
"It really truly has been very liberating being able to have the netbooks," said Roberts, who is in her 13th year teaching. "It's given some of the kids such an opportunity that they didn't have before.
"There are homes that don't have computers. With our population, some kids don't have access, and to allow them to have their very own computer is just wonderful."
With the Internet at their fingertips, Roberts said she made some projects more challenging, knowing students have access to better and more detailed information.
That access, however, has caused some issues with plagiarism.
"I really stress to them that they have to respect copyright laws, and plagiarism is truly a crime," Roberts said.
Still, Roberts lauded the freedom to explore, the wider access to resources and the creativity that the netbooks have brought out.
"There are students that tend to hold back on their creativity because of the physical aspect of writing," she said. "But with the netbooks, being able to type, the imagination goes leaps and bounds."