DSM: Dismal according to their own measure...


Joseph Moore (joseph@ivorycc.com)
Tue, 28 Sep 1999 15:35:06 -0700


Once upon a time, I wrote about American institutional schooling:

>the level of education in this
>country is appalling even according to their own measures.

And Joe Jackson wrote back:

        Of course I agree with this statement, but what do you do if someone
        challenges it! In other words, what sources of information would
you cite
        to back it up?

Here's an example:

(BTW: reading the sample questions with my overly gimlet eye, I wonder if
the writers should be judging anybody else's writing...)
 
                September 28, 1999

                Study: Students Can't Write Well

                Filed at 11:25 a.m. EDT

                By The Associated Press

                WASHINGTON (AP) -- About three-fourths of the nation's
school children demonstrated only partial mastery of the knowledge and
skills needed to write proficiently for their grade level, the Education
Department reported today.

                Testers asked 60,000 fourth-graders, eighth-graders and
12th-graders to write stories, personal essays, reports about events or
experiences and persuasive pieces.

                The tests and score levels were determined by the National
Assessment Governing Board, a quasi-governmental body created by Congress to
act as an independent judge of education standards, and the testing itself
was undertaken by the Education Department.
                Overall, more than three-fourths of the students showed at
least a basic level of writing -- or partial mastery of the prerequisite
knowledge and skills fundamental to proficient work at their grade level --
and roughly one-fourth of the students in each grade level were at least
proficient.

                ``These findings are important, because how well students
write at the end of the 20th century is an indicator of how well they will
be able to communicate and reason in the beginning of the 21st century,''
Gary Phillips, acting commissioner for the Education Department's National
Center for Education Statistics, said in remarks prepared for the test
results' release.

                Only 23 percent of fourth-graders wrote at the proficient
level or above, which meant -- in the testers' terms -- that they could
deliver a solid academic performance and competently write about challenging
subject matter. Eighty-four percent wrote at the basic level or above, and
16 percent were below the basic level.
                For eighth-graders, 27 percent were at least proficient, 84
percent were at least basic, and 16 percent were below basic. For
12th-graders, 22 percent were proficient, 78 percent were basic and 22
percent were below basic.

                And in each grade group, 1 percent of students wrote at an
advanced level, which signified a superior performance.
                The testing, which took place in 1998, included students at
both public and private schools.

                It was the first national test of students' writing skills
since 1992, but the Board said the results could not be compared because the
tests used a new methodology.

                For example, fourth-graders were asked to write about their
favorite object and what they would find in a magic castle, eighth-graders
about the arrival of a space ship and what they would like to see on public
television, and 12th-graders a story related to a poem by Walt Whitman and
their opinion about voter registration.
                Not surprisingly, students who wrote better were used to
writing several drafts, had teachers who talked to them about writing and
required them to use computers with their writing.

                Thirty-five states, the District of Colombia and the Virgin
Islands also tested an additional 100,000 eighth-grade public school
students.

                Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas and Wisconsin had
the highest percentages of students writing at the proficient level.
Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina and Hawaii had the lowest
percentages of students writing at the proficient level.
                ------
                Percentages of public school eighth-graders in 35 states,
the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands who scored at the proficient
level or above in writing tests by the National Assessment Governing Board:

                State Percentage
                Ala. 17
                Alaska NA
                         
                Ariz. 21
                Ark. 13
                Calif. 20
                         
                Colo. 27
                Conn. 44
                Del. 22
                D.C. 11
                Fla. 19
                Ga. 23
                Hawaii 15
                         
                Idaho NA
                Ill. NA
                Ind. NA
                Iowa NA
                Kan. NA
                Ky. 21
                La. 12
                Maine 32
                Md. 23
                Mass. 31
                Mich. NA
                Minn. 25
                Miss. 11
                Mo. 17
                Mont. 25
                Neb. NA
                Nev. 17
                N.H. NA
                N.J. NA
                N.M. 18
                N.Y. 21
                N.C. 27
                N.D. NA
                Ohio NA
                Okla. 25
                Ore. 27
                Pa. NA
                R.I. 25
                S.C. 15
                S.D. NA
                Tenn. 24
                Texas 31
                Utah 21
                Vt. NA
                Va. 27
                Wash. 25
                W.Va. 18
                Wis. 28
                Wyo. 23
                V.I. 09

                ------
                Sample questions used by the National Assessment Governing
Board to test the writing skills of fourth-graders, eighth-graders and
12th-graders:
                Fourth-graders:
                We all have favorite objects that we care about and would
not want to give up.
                Think of one object that is important or valuable to you.
For example, it could be a book, a piece of clothing, a game, or any object
you care about.
                Write about your favorite object. Be sure to describe the
object and explain why it is valuable or important to you.
                ------
                Eighth-graders:
                Imagine this situation!
                A noise outside awakens you one night. You look out the
window and see a spaceship. The door of the spaceship opens, and out walks a
space creature. What does the creature look like? What does the creature do?
What do you do?
                Write a story about what happens next.
                ------
                12th-graders:
                Your school is sponsoring a voter registration drive for
18-year-old high school students. You and three of your friends are talking
about the project. Your friends say the following.
                Friend 1: ``I'm working on the young voters' registration
drive. Are you going to come to it and register? You're all 18, so you can
do it. We're trying to help increase the number of young people who vote and
it shouldn't be too hard -- I read that he percentage of 18-to-20-year-olds
who vote increased in recent years. We want that percentage to keep going
up.''
                Friend 2: ``I'll be there. People should vote as soon as
they turn 18. It's one of the responsibilities of living in a democracy.''
                Friend 3: ``I don't know if people should even bother to
register. One vote in an elections isn't going to change anything.''
                Do you agree with friend 2 or 3? Write a response to your
friends in which you explain whether you will or will not register to vote.
Be sure to explain why and support your position with examples from your
reading or experience. Try to convince the friend with whom you disagree
that your position is the right one.



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