Monday, July 28, 2008

Terri Leo: State Board of Education Update

Dallas Morning News Editorial Board Blunders Again (July 27, 2008)

When the Dallas Morning News editorial board in today's commentary proclaimed the virtues of the New Jersey Writing Project as a way to improve students' abilities to write, the Board showed its utter ignorance of what really goes on in Texas' public schools.

For over twenty years, almost every English teacher in Texas has followed the New Jersey Writing Project's philosophy of teaching writing! During those twenty years, school districts have paid huge amounts of tax dollars for teachers to be completely brainwashed in NJWP. What do we have to show for it? We have the type of students who cannot write a substantive, well-written, short-answer response on the TAKS tests; nor can students write the type of sophisticated papers that are needed in college and in the workplace. Ironically, this was the subject of Laurie Fox's and Holly Hacker's article to which the editorial board refers.

What the editorial board should have done was to applaud the efforts of the majority of the Texas State Board of Education members who on 5.23.08 dramatically changed the direction of our public schools away from the NJWP's wrong-headed curriculum.

The SBOE set our public schools on a new path toward the direct and systematic teaching of grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and handwriting as basic skills that form the foundation of good writing. Students cannot apply what they do not know. They cannot write well until they first learn how the English language is constructed.

Starting this fall, all Texas English teachers will begin the transition into the new standards (TEKS); and by next school year, these standards will be implemented with students, K-12.

A new day is coming for our Texas school students, and the DMN editorial board members need to find out what is happening before they commit further embarrassing blunders. -- Donna Garner

Editorial: Texas must improve student writing

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, July 27, 2008

Here's the question about standardized tests: Can students prepare for them and still learn to think conceptually, including how to write persuasively?

The answer is yes, absolutely, but the effort will require teachers being devoted to teaching students to think creatively and to mastering material for a test.

Dallas Morning News reporters Laurie Fox and Holly Hacker explored this issue last Sunday in a probing report into how some North Texas high schoolers are flunking the short-essay part of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for language arts. Not even half pass this portion, which requires reading a short piece and responding to it in a clear, thoughtful way.

Some blame excessive testing, but testing isn't the problem. If not for the test, we wouldn't know how bad the problem is.

The problem is students aren't sufficiently learning writing skills before high school. This spring, results from the gold standard of tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, showed that 74 percent of Texas eighth-graders – three out of four, on average – write below grade level.

Good writing requires students to think critically, set up an argument and present it artfully. And it can be part of any district's curriculum, if made a priority.
Just for the Kids, an Austin-based group that tracks best practices across the nation, praises several districts for their writing strategies. For example, Weslaco, Texas, schools use the New Jersey Writing Project that outlines ways to teach writing and establishes clear expectations.

Turning this problem around will require that superintendents insist on strong writing exercises – and more testing of writing skills. Texas only assesses short-response writing skills in high school on the English language exam. Missouri, Connecticut and other states test writing in more grades and subjects, including math.

Additional testing will require more state dollars for the Texas Education Agency. Written exams, after all, require humans – not computers – to evaluate them.
But the extra expenditures should even out over time. Colleges certainly wouldn't have to spend so much in remedial writing classes. And students would learn a skill they will need in a world that still prizes communication.

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