Only 24% of American teens have proficient writing skills – even when allowed spell check and computers

Fewer than one in four American teens has proficient writing skills – even  when allowed spell check and computers

  • Only a quarter of eighth  and 12th grade students had solid writing abilities, according to National  Assessment of Educational Progress writing test
  • For the 2011 exam, laptops were brought into  public and private schools across the U.S., the first year the test was  administered via computer
  • More than 50,000 students were tested to get  a nationally representative sample
  • Significant achievement gap was found  between white, black, Hispanic and Asian students
  • Girls were better writers than boys, scoring  20 point higher on average than male students
  • Low-income children scored nearly 30 point  less

By Associated Press Reporter

PUBLISHED:13:00 EST, 14  September 2012| UPDATED:13:26 EST, 14 September 2012

Just a quarter of eighth and 12th grade  students in the United States have solid writing skills, even when allowed to  use spell-check and other computer word processing tools, according to results  of a national exam released on Friday.

Twenty-four per cent of students at each  grade level were able to write essays that were well developed, organized and  had proper language and grammar. Three per cent scored as advanced and the  remaining students had just partial mastery of these skills.

Students who took the writing test  inn 2011  had an advantage that previous test takers did not: a computer  with spell-check  and thesaurus.

Boy uses a computer in a classroomResults are in: Only twenty-four per cent of students at  each grade level were able to write essays that were well developed, organized  and had proper language and grammar (stock photo)

‘It is important to remember this is first  draft writing,’ said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment  Governing Board, which administers the Nation’s Report Card tests.

‘They did have some time to edit, but it  wasn’t extensive editing,’ she added in comments to the Associated Press.

Previously, students taking the National  Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)writing  test had to use pencil and paper, but with changes in  technology, and the need  to write across electronic formats, the  decision was made to switch to  computers.

Writing test 2011Report card: The NAEP is a congressionally authorized  project

She said word processing  tools alone  wouldn’t result in significantly better writing scores if  students didn’t have  the core skills of being able to organize ideas and present them in a clear and  grammatical fashion.

Still, students in both grades who used the  thesaurus and the backspace key  more frequently had higher scores than those  who used them less often.  Students in the 12th grade who had to write four or  five pages a week  for English homework also had higher scores.

Because this was the first version of the  computerized test, the board  cautioned against comparing the results to  previous exams. In 2007, 33  per cent of eighth grade students scored at the  proficient level, which  represents solid writing skills, as did 24 per cent at  grade 12.

The results at both grade levels showed a  continued achievement gap between white, black, Hispanic and Asian students.

At the eighth grade, Asian students had the  highest average score, which  was 33 points higher than black students on a  300-point scale. At the  12th grade, white students scored 27 points above black  students.

The NAEP is a congressionally  authorized  project of the National Center for Education Statistics  (NCES) within the  Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.

Orr said  students use technology and tools  like spell-check on a daily basis.  ‘It’s as if years ago we had given them a  pencil to write the essay and  took away the eraser,’ she said.


The numbers: A significant achievement gap was found  between white, black, Hispanic and Asian students

There was also a gender gap, with  girls  scoring 20 points higher on average than boys in the eighth grade  and 14 points  higher in 12th grade.

Those who qualified for free and reduced  price lunch, a key indicator of  poverty, also had lower scores than those who  did not; there was a 27  point difference between the two at the eighth  grade.

For the 2011 exam, laptops were brought into  public and private schools  across the country and more than 50,000 students  were tested to get a  nationally representative sample. Students were given  prompts that  required them to write essays that explained, persuaded or  conveyed an  experience.

Students in classroom of elementary school.Writing skills: U.S. students have become too reliant on  using spell check on computers and lack basic writing skills, new exam results  show (stock photo)

Kathleen  Blake Yancey, a professor at  Florida State University who served on the  advisory panel for the test, said  one factor to keep in mind is that  research shows most students in the United  States don’t compose at the  keyboard.

‘What they do  is sort of type already  written documents into the machine, much as we  used to do with typewriters four  decades ago,’ she said.

Yancey said for this reason, there was some  concern about having students  write on the computer as opposed to by hand.

Likewise, having the  advantage of  spell-check assumes students know how to use it. And in  some schools and  neighborhoods, computers are still not easily  accessible.

image005.pngTechnology: In the first version of the computerized  test, students still didn’t have the core skills of being able to organize ideas  and present them in a clear and grammatical fashion

‘There are not so many students that actually  learn to write composing at the keyboard,’ she said.

Yancey added that many kids who do have  access to computers are not  necessarily using them to write at school, but to  take standardized  tests and filling in bubbles.

‘Digital technology is a technology,’ she  said. ‘Paper and pencil is a  technology. If technology were the answer, that  would be pretty simple.’

Children using computerProgress? ‘If technology were the answer, that would be  pretty simple,’ one education expert said admitting that access to technology is  not the answer to helping students with their writing skills (stock  photo

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