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NAEP Writing Exam Reveals Low Proficiency Rates

Based on new data from the "nation's report card," a lot of U.S. students are not "proficient" in writing, and the issue is especially alarming for black and Hispanic students.

See my colleague Nora Fleming's story for the details. I'll just serve up a few statistics here to give you a hint. In all, just 27 percent of U.S. students tested scored proficient or advanced on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress in writing, which last year for the first time was administered on computers.

Here's a quick breakdown of results for some student groups at 8th grade:

• Asian (44 percent proficient or above)
• Black (11 percent)
• Hispanic (14 percent)
• White (34 percent)

The report also revealed a stark gender gap, with 37 percent of 8th grade girls scoring proficient or above, compared with 18 percent of boys.

The 2011 NAEP in writing is especially notable because it was computer-based. It's also the first time students have been tested on a revised writing framework, so unfortunately, the results are not considered comparable to prior years. You can expect to see a lot more computer-based testing in NAEP in future years across all content areas.

This raises some interesting questions, especially whether testing on computers sparks any notable shifts in achievement. I'm told that some educators fear students may not perform as well on a computer-based test, even as this is clearly the wave of the future.

Some data in the new report suggest that those who frequently are required in class to write on computers have a leg up. But, of course, a key question is the whole issue of causation versus correlation. In other words, is it really a matter of whether students have regular experience with writing on a computer, or other factors such as attending better-equipped schools, having better teachers, or family background.

The report also provides some interesting and curious insights into students' use of word-processing tools. For example, while nearly all 8th graders made use of the backspace key at least one time during the exam, 20 percent or fewer used the copy, cut, or paste tools.

Makes me wonder about my own use of these functions as I've composed this blog post. Type. Backspace. Delete. Scroll. And finally ... publish.

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