Getting it in writing

Published 9:26 am Wednesday, June 27, 2007

By Staff
(From News &Record of Greensboro, June 20)
Why should they care about writing?
Before teachers and parents respond with righteous outrage, they should consider that it’s a reasonable question — at least from the perspective of school-age children and teens. Why should they expend energy on becoming good writers in an era when e-mails and text messages have all but replaced letters, when books all too often are set aside for TV, video games, the Internet and DVDs?
Fortunately, there’s a good answer: Because writing does, and will, matter in their lives.
Students must be getting that message in the majority of Guilford County elementary schools. The percentage of proficient preliminary state writing test scores for 2006-2007 is up in 46 of 66 schools, and way up at five schools: Alderman, Southern, Hunter, Florence and Jones. Youngsters in fourth, seventh and 10th grades take the writing test each March.
Convincing children that writing is relevant, that ‘‘it’s relating to something they will do later,’’ is one of the keys, said Pam Moore, a curriculum facilitator at Alderman. The southwest Greensboro school posted Guilford County Schools’ biggest gain in proficient fourth-grade writing test scores, a 32.3-point jump from 32.1 percent in 2005-06 to 64.4 percent this year.
To help students see the importance of writing firsthand, authors and radio and TV broadcasters were invited to Alderman to talk about the role writing plays in their daily work.
Students were rewarded for earning top scores on weekly writing prompts, and teachers got pointers from a writing consultant. But putting Alderman fourth-graders in small groups to focus on writing 90 minutes a day, and providing individual attention probably made the most difference, said principal Pam Misher.
Those strategies, and others that get results in high-performing schools, should be duplicated throughout the district. The rise in Guilford’s fourth-grade scores to 54.1 percent proficient, above the state average of 52.7 percent, is encouraging — suggesting higher scores for seventh and 10th grades are on the horizon.
But current middle- and high-school scores are, overall, headed in the wrong direction. Proficient scores at half of the system’s 18 middle schools are down from last year, and 10th-grade scores dropped 5.2 points, from 62.4 percent proficient to 57.2 percent.
Providing more opportunities for students to practice writing as they move into middle, then high school is one part of turning that trend around. More reading is another, as is moving beyond prompts in preparing students for the tests and sharpening their skills. After all, writing has many applications — academic, professional, personal. For all those reasons, it matters.