Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Research: Assessment of Writing, 1969-1974

Question: Did overall writing proficiency of 13- and 17-year-olds improve between 1969 and 1974?

Answer: No Quote: “And to the surprise of presumably no one, given the current furor over declining student literacy, it turns out that the writing of both thirteen and seventeen year-olds in 1974 was judged poorer in over-all quality than that of their 1969 counterparts.” 66.

[The reasons for this decline in writing sound familiar. RayS.]

Quote: “With this reading of the factual data in mind, we may turn to the brief interpretive section of the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] report. Perhaps in order to avoid contributing to an atmosphere of crisis, authors Lloyd-Jones and Winterowd stop short of flatly acknowledging that writing proficiency has diminished. Their recognition that the 1969-1974 changes are real, however, is implied clearly enough in their suggested explanations…that students write less well because they now read less; that motivation to write is on the wane due to increases in telephone use and visual communication, and less reliance on writing in business; that teachers are assigning less writing because their class size has increased and with it their theme marking time; that increases in personal narrative have reduced the amount of utilitarian writing (exposition, presumably) done in school; that the Edited Standard English used as a writing model in schools is after all a dialect and an index of social status towards which fewer students now aspire; and, finally, that young people may be writing a changed form of language incorporating techniques of visual coherence absorbed from television, to which the scorers of over-all quality may have applied outmoded standards of judgment.” 71.

Comment: One thing the history of English teaching shows us is that education is always in crisis. But the causes for the decline in writing are almost the same reasons we could give today (2011).

The purpose for releasing these data, according to the author of this review, is not to create a crisis, but only to create discussions of why the decline occurred. And the need to return to an emphasis on composition, not to an over emphasis on grammar.

Issues have staying power and declines in writing—and reading—will probably always be with us. Maybe history is cyclical as a Greek historian told us. But what can we learn from this particular crisis? To emphasize composition and don’t return to an over emphasis on grammar. Amen. RayS.

Title: “Round Two of the National Writing Assessment—interpreting the Apparent decline of Writing Ability: A Review.” John C. Mellon. Research in the Teaching of English (Spring 1976), 66-74.

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