Okay, so you’re thinking: “This guy is even more nuts than I thought. How can he root for kids to write poorly?"
I hope I’m not nuts, but one of the major new tests to be used to monitor student performance against the common core state standards is well designed (truth in advertising: I serve on the English Language Arts Technical Work Groups for that test). However, those new designs are almost certain to lower student writing scores, which I hope will be good for kids—at least in the long run.
PARCC is a 23 state consortium that is designing new English language arts assessments (mostly for states east of the Mississippi River). Earlier this week, PARCC released item and task prototypes and I hope that you’ll take a careful look at them—even if you are not in a PARCC state:
How can I be so sure writing scores are going to drop with PARCC? I’ve been studying this topic for more than three decades and one thing that I’ve learned is that reading and writing are not perfectly related or aligned. The correlations of reading and writing are lower than one would expect—which angered many people when I first started reporting that in the early 1980s.
That means that while there are a lot of students who read and write poorly or who read and write well, there are also surprising numbers who read well and write poorly and vice versa.
Traditional state writing assessments were designed so that students did not have to read to do the writing. Students who wrote well, but read poorly, did well on past tests.
PARCC is going to have students read texts, answer reading comprehension questions, and then write about those texts (summarizing or synthesizing, according to the prototypes). Students who manage to express themselves well, but who struggle with reading, will be at a marked disadvantage on the writing assessment. Such students will fail to write well not because of weaknesses in composition, but in comprehension.
That’s why the scores are going to drop. But why would I cheer for this?
Two reasons really. Research shows that literacy is improved when students write about what they read. Recently, there has been little emphasis on correlating reading and writing instruction and PARCC’s test design will push many teachers to combine reading and writing. That’s a real plus for kids.
Also, past measures provided a purer assessment of “writing,” but it wasn’t the writing that allows individuals to succeed academically and economically. Writing about reading is not as pure a measure of writing, but it is a much better measure of writing about reading, which has greater value to our children.
So, the writing scores are going to drop, but that means students are more likely to end up with higher real proficiency, especially with the skills that we most want them to have. That is going to look bad, but it is a real benefit for the kids.
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