An eighth grade student wrote, "I would like to go to the Fair by myself," but he had a hard time explaining why.
"I am old enough to go because I am 14 years old. I have a job to keep money. Last but not least, I am responsible to go. I take care of the house and everything. So I think I should go to the Fair," he wrote.And his writing was better than that of many other students.
The student's paper was among hundreds analyzed in an Education Department research study that said a national sampling of America's best students shows that many of them are sloppy, disorganized writers.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress said one reason for the poor writing is that teachers spent little time on writing instruction of any kind in the classroom.
"It is an unprecedented snap-shot of what better-than-average students are writing in better-than-average schools," said Phyllis W. Aldrich, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board.
About 2,000 fourth and eighth grade students participated in the 1990 study.
Until now, most tests of writing skills asked students to draft an essay on an assigned topic within a specific time. The new approach, called "portfolio," allows students to select writing samples done over time that might be a more accurate indicator of overall writing ability.
Key findings were:
- Student stories had little focus and little content. The majority of writing submitted was informative and narrative, and very few children submitted persuasive pieces, poems, letters or reports.
- 1 percent of students at each grade level performed major revisions to their papers, and just one-fifth of fourth graders and one-third of eighth graders performed even minor revisions.
- The median story length for fourth graders was just 84 words, roughly one paragraph. For eighth graders, it was 140 words or about two paragraphs.
- More than three-quarters of students used their own ideas and observations, not something they had learned in school or read, as a subject for their writing.