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These entries, written by Traci Gardner, are copied from TechNotes, a free newsletter for writing teachers from Bedford/St. Martin’s. For information about TechNotes, go to

AP Wire | 07/10/2003 | Study: 12th-graders can’t write well

On WPA-L this week, Ann Larson posted a news article by Ben Feller that included this quotation:
AP Wire | 07/10/2003 | Study: 12th-graders can’t write well: “The average test score for seniors dropped slightly since 1998; what’s worse, the proportion of 12th-graders who reached at least the basic level dropped from 78 to 74 percent. That means about a quarter of seniors, within a 25-minute time limit, could not provide an organized answer that showed they understood their task and their audience.

“By the time students graduate high school, they should be able to produce more than disorganized self-expression or Internet chat,’ said Marilyn Whirry, former national teacher of the year and a member of the board that oversees the national assessment.”

When I read this section of Feller’s article, I couldn’t help but think how I’d much rather have one of the invested arguments that I see students have in chatrooms, IRC, and the like than a namby-pamby 5-paragraph theme. Besides, why does Internet chat have to be the bad guy all the time? Why is it okay to pick on a channel of communication, without any discussion of the possibilities of good writing there? Do you think maybe communication could actually be better in a communication where there is an audience actually listening to the discussion? where there is someone who would notice if things are out of order?

There’s a lot to be learned from an Internet chat and e-mail. Audience. Purpose. Voice. Evidence and support for arguments. Need for specific detail. I wonder what would happen if rather than this kind of writing prompt: “Write a essay arguing for or against grade inflation,” we used something like this:

One of the biology teachers at your school has decided to change from a ten-point grade scale (100 to 90 is an A, 89 to 80 is a B, etc.) to a seven-point grade scale (100 to 93 is an A, 92 to 85 is a B, etc.). The teacher wants to encourage students to put more effort into their classes by raising the requirements. The teacher has set up an online forum where students, parents, and other teachers can post their response to the idea. Write a message that you’ll post to the form that argues for or against the new grade scale.

If we had test prompts that actually provided a complete writing scenario and if we thought about the positive ways that Internet writing can be used to help writers, I wonder what might happen...