States face challenges to improve writing standards

April 17, 2012, Michigan State University

Far too many K-12 students have inadequate writing skills, and the current efforts to improve instruction in the United States may be more challenging than anticipated, research from Michigan State University shows.

According to an initial sample of seven , the existing standards for teaching vary widely in comparison to a new set of common standards that are in the process of being implemented by most states.

Study co-director Gary Troia of MSU, along with Natalie Olinghouse at the University of Connecticut, said educators and in many parts of the country will have to make significant changes to bring existing curriculum, materials and teacher training in line with the Common Core State Standards for writing and language.

The new K-12 standards are intended to improve instruction in mathematics and English language arts, including writing, nationwide.

"Everyone needs to know how to write well, and we are not doing a good enough job to prepare students," said Troia, associate professor of education. "What we are finding is that states are going to be faced with a misalignment between the content standards and curriculum materials they are using and what the Common Core requires them to cover."

The research team has a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study writing standards, assessments and in all states except Maryland, Texas and the District of Columbia, which elected not to participate. Their first findings, presented at the American Educational Research Association meeting April 17, reflect an analysis of states representing a range of demographics and writing test results: California, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, New York and Massachusetts.

The researchers also evaluated the scope and quality of the Common Core writing standards, expected to be implemented in 46 states by 2014. They found the common standards are easy to interpret, succinct and balanced in terms of covering content across grades and topic areas. However, some important aspects of writing, such as student motivation, peer and teacher feedback, and mastery of an expanded range of writing purposes, are not included in the Common Core.

"Things that do matter at an early age like spelling and handwriting are not addressed very well," said Troia. "States have to think about whether they want to add anything to the common standards as opposed to implementing them as is."

Policy research has shown that content standards affect what is taught and how students perform. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, up to two-thirds of U.S. students are not considered proficient in writing.

"That presents a pretty bleak picture, and yet the expectations for writing in college and the workplace are being ramped up," Troia said. "The Common Core can provide consistency and a lot of opportunities to enhance instruction, but there are gaps as well and we don't want those to be ignored."

The four-year study also is exploring how states' writing and assessments reflect research knowledge about best practices as well as the types of writing skills students are expected to demonstrate after graduation.

Explore further: New research offers guidance for improving primary grade writing instruction

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1 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2012
Part of the problem is the way "writing" is taught in school is just wrong and ridiculous.

I never obeyed all the brainstorm and outline crap, and usually maintained above grade level in reading and at or above grade level in writing, especially by high school.

What I always did was write a rough draft from the gut, and then just check for spelling and whatever, and make a few minor adjustments.

When I got to college I did the same thing and usually had 95% to 100% on all writing projects.

Writing is just like holding a conversation, except with your hands. You should not have to sit there and outline and brainstorm crap and all these other steps they "teach" kids to do in school.

If it's a very, very long paper, fine an outline can help sometimes, but "tools" should never become more important to the process than the paper itself.

What I always observed was all the other students were actually confused by all the "techniques" the teachers forced on them...
1 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2012
The fact most high school writing assignments are about topics that are not only useless, but also not interesting to the students has also become a contributing factor to poor scores.

Then when they do Shakespeare, (severely over-rated, BTW,) students can't understand the antiquated English, but of course, to anyone who has read the Bible a few times, antiquated English is practically your first language. There's only a few stray, poetic word forms in Shakespeare's works which are not found in the Bible or common, contemporary speech.

They want people to write a paper or an essay on that, and God's truth is most of Shakespeare's works are boring as hell and quite predictable, and ultimately just completely over-rated.

In the "real world," if you're writing a paper as an adult it is typically about something you actually enjoy, so it is much easier and more natural.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2012
Great idea! But, with spending cuts to schools and teacher salaries, just how are we to improve education for our children?

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