Despite Spell Check, Less Than A Quarter Of Teens Are Proficient Writers

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A national test has determined that despite laptop and spell-check use, American teens are struggling at writing proficiency skills. (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

A national test has determined that despite laptop and spell-check use, American teens are struggling at writing proficiency skills. (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS WASHINGTON) – Less than one-in-four American teens has proficient writing skills – even with use of spell check and computers.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress writing test, only a quarter of eighth and 12th grade students had solid writing abilities. For the 2011 exam, more than 50,000 students were tested to get a nationally representative sample. Laptops were brought into public and private schools across the US as it was the first year the test was administered via computer.

Twenty-four per cent of students at each grade level were able to write essays that were well developed, organized and had proper language and grammar. Three per cent scored as advanced and the remaining students had just partial mastery of these skills.

“It is important to remember this is first draft writing,” Cornelia Orr told The Daily Mail. She is the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the Nation’s Report Card tests.

“They did have some time to edit, but it wasn’t extensive editing,” she added in comments to the Associated Press.

Students who took the writing test inn 2011 had an advantage that previous test takers did not: a computer with spell-check and thesaurus.

Previously, students taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) writing test had to use pencil and paper, but with changes in technology, and the need to write across electronic formats, the decision was made to switch to computers.

Orr said students use technology and tools like spell-check on a daily basis. “It’s as if years ago we had given them a pencil to write the essay and took away the eraser,” she said.

Orr told the Daily Mail that word processing tools alone wouldn’t result in significantly better writing scores if students didn’t have the core skills of being able to organize ideas and present them in a clear and grammatical fashion.

The results at both grade levels showed a continued achievement gap between white, black, Hispanic and Asian students.

At the eighth grade, Asian students had the highest average score, which was 33 points higher than black students on a 300-point scale. At the 12th grade, white students scored 27 points above black students.

There was also a gender gap, with girls scoring 20 points higher on average than boys in the eighth grade and 14 points higher in 12th grade.

The NAEP is a congressionally authorized project of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.

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