Is Less Writing a Good Thing for Your Student?

Everywhere you look there seems to be some sort of educational reform being proposed, implemented or suggested. In many cases reform is intended to be for the better, but a recent bill being sponsored in Washington state calls for doing away with statewide writing assessments. Is less writing necessarily a good thing?

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washington state writing assessments

An Integrated Education

Lately, it seems integration is the name of the game.

For instance, reading is pretty much required in all subjects, right? Even in math, students must read word problems. So in some school districts, the plan has been to integrate things like reading and writing into other classes, thus eliminating the need for writing- or reading-specific courses.

Last year, schools in Howard County, Maryland announced that they would be infusing reading into other classes and doing away with reading-specific classes. Under that plan, teachers in math, history and other classes would be required to devote several minutes each period to reading. In December 2011, a Connecticut high school even added writing to gym class!

But couldn't integration lead to a dilution of some subjects? Is writing in mathematics, for example, really going to teach students about grammar and punctuation? Will five minutes spent writing in a journal in gym class actually help students develop strong written communication skills? And are computer science teachers trained to teach students how to read?

Lack of Communication

In Washington, high school students are currently required to complete a culminating writing project prior to graduation. Many believe this requirement helps students build a stronger resume, not to mention developing much-needed writing skills in an age where such a skill is lacking.

In an editorial for Salon.com in May 2011, author Kim Brooks writes of her dismay at college students who not only can't write as well as one would expect, but also cannot outline, edit or proofread. In her article, Brooks quotes a writing tutor and composition professor: 'Even students who aren't going to stay in college need to know how to write. We've all gotten e-mails or cover letters where we've judged people based on the writing. It's not an essay but it's still communication and people fail at it all the time in profound and meaningful ways.'

And the failing can be traced to some degree to the lack of proper teaching in elementary and high school. The problem, sadly, is not new; in a 1980 paper titled How Writing Isn't - But Should Be - Taught in American Schools, authors Arn and Charlene Tibbetts write about English teachers who cannot pass portions of the ACT English Usage Test!

'Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water'

Legislators in Washington are citing budgetary reasons for the cut in writing assessments, and supporters claim that students will not suffer in any way because of the change mainly because 'writing is assessed daily' in schools anyway.

But not all agree. Tim Knue, executive director of the Washington Association for Career and Technical Education, told The Oregonian in January 2012: 'We fear as we move forward, as we throw the baby out with the bath water in some of these bills to accommodate schools, we'll be doing more harm than good.'

Could the proposed reform in Washington reach beyond that state? Might other schools, already cutting back on various programs in response to budget cuts, follow suit and eliminate writing classes or requirements? If so, it might be time for parents and opponents to speak out. When it comes to learning writing, less is certainly not more.

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