Surprise, surprise. Most eight-graders in America have less than 50% proficiency level in writing. Only two states scored above the 50% mark, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The national writing test was given to 140,000 eighth graders and 28,000 12th grade students, selected to form a representative sample of all students nationwide in those grades. Each student wrote two 25-minute essays, designed to measure student skills at writing to inform, persuade and tell stories.
Overall, 33 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficiency level, which the test designers defined as competency in carrying out challenging academic tasks, while 88 percent scored at or above the basic level, defined as partial mastery of the skills needed for proficient work.
As a previous writing tutor at my college, I believe it. Sometimes I would sit with students and when I read their papers I didn’t understand how they even graduated high school. Many times they didn’t know anything about citations, much less how to form a coherent paragraph. And these were 19, 20 and 21 year olds.
There are probably many factors that can be blamed for this. Kids don’t read as much anymore? Too many video games? No Child Left Behind? Poor parenting? Something I didn’t think of was constant IMing and text messaging among children:
James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, drew laughs when he expressed concern about what he called “the slow destruction of the basic unit of human thought, the sentence,” because young Americans are doing most of their writing in disjointed prose composed in Internet chat rooms or in cellphone text messages.
I wouldn’t have been one of the people to laugh at him. Sure, maybe kids have to write several papers throughout the school year, but those in no way add up to the constant text messaging, instant messaging and Myspace-ing that they do. Remember the cell phone commercial with the family that talks in IM speak? “idk mom, my bff jill?” The reason it was so funny was because that’s how these kids text and IM to each other, and with those forms of communication being the most prominent in their lives, text speak has taken over, well, normal speak.