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Sandra Yi ReportingAmerica's fourth and eighth graders are better writers than before, but high school seniors have a lot of work to do. That is according to a new report by The National Assessment of Education Progress that charts student achievement.
Here's a sample essay question for eighth graders, “What book would you save for future generations and what is it about the book that makes it important to save?” Students were scored on such things as punctuation and detail.
There's good and bad news. America's fourth and eighth grade students are writing better than fourth and eighth graders four years ago. Their scores improved but most still can't give clear answers, provide supporting details or use accurate punctuation.
Eugene Hickock, U.S. Department of Education: "Any time two thirds of all your students are still below proficient in a discipline, in this case writing, you've got a real national challenge. And because this is such a core subject, the ability to communicate on paper is so essential to success in every other discipline. To succeed in life, we've got a lot of work to do."
Nationally, most kids write at a basic level. Twenty-six or 29 percent are considered proficient and can handle challenging subject matter and apply it to real world situations.
Val Plisko, National Center for Education Statistics: "In terms of the types of questions that a student might see in the writing assessment, at the fourth grade level for example, a student might be asked to write a persuasive letter that convinces somebody to do something."
As for kids in Utah, they scored below the national average. Educators say it's disappointing but not surprising. Schools now are working to boost writing skills, revising curriculum and having writing assessments for some grades.
Steven Laing, State Superintendent of Public Instruction: "We think that over time, this will pay dividends, but obviously it's too new to see the results here."
Laing says student-teacher interaction is also important, but oftentimes difficult with large class sizes. He says smaller classrooms can make a difference.
Steven Laing, State Superintendent of Public Instruction: "To provide a meaningful writing assignment and then spend the time to interact with that adds significantly to the workload for these teachers outside of the class of their own regular day."
America's high school seniors showed no improvement in their writing skills. In fact the percentage of those who can write at a basic level dropped from 57 to 51 percent. Their scores have also dipped in reading, math and science.
One more note - the SAT's will add an essay portion in 2005.