Nation's Report Card: Middle, high school kids' writing improves
Associated Press
April 4, 2008

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Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/232785

 WASHINGTON More middle- and high-school students understand the basics of writing, but there's been no increase in the ranks of top-performing teenage writers.

The federal government released the scores Thursday of writing tests given to eighth- and 12th-graders nationwide last year. Students had to demonstrate narrative, informative and persuasive writing skills.

As in the past, girls did much better than boys at both grade levels. Eighth-grade English teacher Amanda Avallone, a member of the board that administers the national test, said the gender gap "troubles and mystifies" her.

"Nothing in my experience tells me that boys can't write," said Avallone, of Boulder, Colo. She said expectations appear to be lower for boys when it comes to writing.

Overall, eighth-grade scores rose modestly from the last time the test, known as the Nation's Report Card, was given in 2002.

The proportion of kids scoring at or above the basic level rose from 85 percent to 88 percent.

At that level, students show they can use grammar, spelling and punctuation that are accurate enough to communicate to a reader, but there may be mistakes in their work that get in the way of its meaning.

The percentage of eighth-graders at or above the proficient level which policy makers call the goal was unchanged from five years earlier. About a third of eighth graders achieved the "proficient" label.

Errors in the writing of an eighth-grader working at the proficient level were not serious enough to get in the way of the work's meaning.

State and federal efforts to improve education have focused intensely on poorly performing students in recent years, said Michael Petrilli, vice president at Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education think tank.

He said the trend helps explain why more kids can now handle basic writing, although there's been no growth in the percentage of top achievers.

Nationally, the percentage of 12th-graders scoring at or above the basic level showed a more dramatic jump, rising from 74 percent to 82 percent from 2002 to 2007. That kind of progress hasn't generally been seen among high-school seniors in other subjects, said Mark Schneider, a statistician with the Education Department.

Eighty-five percent of Arizona eighth-graders scored at or above basic level on the test, up from 77 in 2002. Eighty percent of students reached that level in 1998.

The report showed a gender gap here, too. Female eighth-graders scored an average of 157 points on the test, compared to 139 for their male counterparts.

To read the whole report, go to http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2007/2008468.pdf

L. Anne Newell