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Writing on the Chopping Block

In a cost-cutting move, Illinois has eliminated writing from the state's standardized exams for high school juniors. Well, it's just one grade, you say. Not so fast: The state scrapped the writing portion of the standardized exams for elementary and middle schoolers last year.

Some educators contend that the change won't necessarily affect students' writing skills. Schools will continue to teach writing as a part of literacy development and language arts, they argue, and students will still have to prepare for the written portions of college entrance exams.

Dr. Janice Neuleib, executive secretary of the Illinois Association of Teachers of English, said that, without having to worry about the exam, schools may even have more freedom to teach creative writing.

But others voiced concerns that writing will get less attention as schools zero in on preparing students for the math and reading sections of the standardized test. The Chicago Tribune notes that, after the elementary and middle school writing tests were cut last year, requests for teacher professsional development in writing instruction dropped dramatically.

"Good teachers, good schools, good principals don't need a test," the Director of the Chicago Area Writing Project told the paper. "But the problem is, without the test, the focus on writing as a whole ends up taking a back seat."

According to the Tribune, both Oregon and Missouri have also cut back the written portions of their standardized exams, though not as extensively as Illinois. Writing is not required to be measured under the No Child Left Behind law and it is expensive to assess, making it a ripe target for budget-cutting legislators.

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