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Parents Column: Does State Need to Test Kids on Writing?

Proposal to eliminate writing from standardized tests is supposed to save money but some fear it could weaken skills that already might be sliding.

Do kids really need to know about writing tight sentences, breaking ideas into paragraphs, verb-subject agreement and using the active tense, or are these things just more of those silly educational extravagances, like art and recess?

Illinois lawmakers have set their sights on writing tests as one way to trim nearly $2.5 million from the state budget. Essentially, they'd delete writing tests from the standardized exams that Illinois high school juniors take every spring, just as they dropped composition exams for elementary and middle school students last year.

Writing experts admit tests don’t make good writers but they fear that by eliminating writing from standardized tests, the importance of writing correctly and clearly will be diminished.

Their proof? When writing tests were previously purged by the state, teachers stopped signing up for programs to train them to teach writing skills. When the tests were reinstated, the demand for specialized training surged.

Legislators say that even if they cut out this part of the test, they may end up putting it back in 2014, the year the state switches to online testing and presumably sees testing costs go down.

But some say not including writing as part of the test at any time could put college-bound students at a disadvantage. The SAT college admission test, for example, includes a writing segment. And beyond just getting into college, how will today's students go on to any kind of professional job if they can't string together a coherent sentence?

So, we ask, what do you think?

State officials desperately need to find places to cut the huge budget deficit, so should we let them do what they need to do?

How important is this test in terms of ensuring students know how to write clearly and correctly?

Are you worried your children's writing skills are not strong enough and it might hinder them in the future?

Zach July 13, 2011 at 01:28 PM
I am a high school English teacher. The ACT does not measure a student's abilities; it measures a student's college readiness and his or her probability of success in college. The only saving grace of having the ACT as our state test (thanks, Blago!) was the writing exam. It is not perfect, but it does measure how kids think and how well they can express themselves. If we're ditching the writing portion of the test, let's ditch the whole thing and go back to a test that measures what students need to know to graduate from high school.

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