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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Study shows students write at basic level

A recent report published by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) shows that only 27 percent of 12th grade students write at or above a proficient or advanced level.

This was the first portion of the NCES’s study conducted that used word-processing software, taking the test from paper to the computer screen.

This statistic is telling, and though many have denounced standardized testing, it is one of the only tools educators have to measure the collective progress of students’ comprehension of the elementary and secondary curriculum.

One part of the report was conducted by showing students a video prompt that detailed the various uses of technology and then asked students to write about “a type of technology that [students] use in their lives and why they value that technology.”

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Even though students had access to spell check, a thesaurus and editing features, the majority (52 percent) of students scored above the basic level, while 21 percent performed below the basic level.

This report keeps in tune with other data showing a decline in writing and reading comprehension in high school-aged students.

The three levels—basic, proficient and advanced—are all defined by the NCES.

A basic rating “denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.”

A proficient rating “represents solid academic performance. Students reaching this level demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter.”

The large percentage of students who scored basic or above basic are lacking advanced skills that they require for a college career. These students will and in remedial courses that often times do not count for college credit.

The United States Census Bureau projects that 19.7 million students are enrolled in colleges and universities this year. Of those students, 50 percent of them are ages 18 to 19, high school graduates starting their college career.

Does that mean only 27 percent (5,319,000) of those students ready to engage in the rigors of academic writing this fall?

According to the 2011 ACT Profile Report, college readiness benchmarks have been met by three percent less students for English and one percent less students for reading from 2007 to 2011. However, college readiness benchmarks for mathematics and science have both risen by two percent during the same time period.

The decline of the English and reading scores compared to the rise of mathematics and science scores may indicate that either there has been a growing focus in state curriculums on math and science or that reading and writing cannot adequately be measured by standardized tests.

If the quality of education continues to decline in such a crucial area, then students will have trouble expressing themselves in writing, a basic form of communication required in the workplace.

Mathematicians, biologists, nurses, engineers, educators and economists are all required to write detailed reports. It is not only the English major who has to write frequently in his or her career.

The NCES also reports that during the academic year 2010-11, five percent of NMU students graduated with a bachelors degree in English or Engineering; five percent of U of M students graduated with a bachelors in English and eighteen percent with a bachelors in Engineering; two percent of MSU students graduated with a bachelors in English and five percent with a bachelors in Engineering.

I juxtapose the two because of their differences: one degree is steeped in composition and reading of literature while the other is steeped in mathematics and design.

Communication is a common link that both fields share, and without competency in writing, future engineers will find it difficult to communicate to the workers whom will bring to life their conceptual design.

Those entering college are not readily prepared to write at a college level.

There are numerous studies that cannot be reduced to the length of a single column in a newspaper, and they all indicate a growing concern among educators—the youth of America does not write at a level acceptable for college admission.

While the sciences can be reduced to four choices on a bubble sheet and mathematics is a series of logical proofs, the humanities are more abstract in nature. They require students to think, to provide their own answers instead of selecting from a choice of four.

Testing our children based upon the same model used on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” will only hurt them in the long run. Teaching for the test does not provide students with applied knowledge.

No employer is going to ask a prospective employee to choose one out of four possible answers when he or she applies for a job.

Standardized testing is the measuring stick of our current educational system.

The system is broken and so is the tool that educators and administrators use to measure students’ progress.

Unfortunately, standardized testing is a necessary evil used in all levels of the educational system. While it may adequately display the abilities of a student in the field of math or science, it does not measure writing in the same way.

There needs to be a logical solution to this problem. It may require teachers to review numerous essays, adding hours to their already hectic schedules, but a computer cannot accurately evaluate students’ writing.

If you don’t believe me, then try using a word processor that highlights all of your grammar and punctuation errors. Computers cannot assess the use of language the way they can an equation or a bubble sheet.

If Americans don’t find the answer to our current problem, then our children will be robbed of their birthright to a valuable education.

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