- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

The District’s schoolchildren are the worst writers in the country, a national report says a month after the same students were ranked the nation’s worst readers.

D.C. fourth-graders scored 18 points below the national average of 153 points on writing assessments last year, with more than one-fourth lacking even basic writing ability, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) said in “The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2002.”

The District’s eighth-graders scored 24 points below the national average of 152 points on writing assessments for that grade, with more than one-third lacking basic ability.

D.C. public school officials were reluctant yesterday to acknowledge the ranking, instead emphasizing a two-point increase since 1998 in average eighth-grade writing scores.

“It’s always nice to make an increase,” said William Caritj, assistant superintendent for assessment and education accountability. “It certainly could have been worse if we didn’t. There’s still a long way to go.”

Mr. Caritj said D.C. schools need to place more emphasis and spend more time on writing skills in the early grades. He said more emphasis has been placed on reading and mathematics under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, mandating school reforms.

“I think it is encouraging that so many of our fourth-graders performed at least at a basic level,” the assistant superintendent said, calling the report “something to build on.”

Sixty-one percent of D.C. fourth-graders scored at the “basic” level, meaning they showed “partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.” Just 11 percent performed at the “proficient” level and 1 percent at the “advanced” level.

A “proficient” score is said to represent “solid academic performance. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter,” the report says.

Fifty-six percent of the District’s eighth-graders scored at the basic level and 10 percent were called proficient. Too few showed advanced ability to be recorded at even 1 percent.

Mr. Caritj said the District, unlike states, has no suburban areas, which often help boost state scores.

Poor writing performance of D.C. students mirrors poor reading ability, also recorded worst in the nation in NAEP’s report on reading issued last month.

By contrast, Virginia and Maryland students ranked among the best writers in the nation, scoring above average along with students in seven other states.

Just 11 percent of Virginia fourth-graders and 12 percent of eighth-graders showed “below basic” writing ability.

Charles Pyle, spokesman for Virginia’s Department of Education, credited the state’s Standards of Learning, which emphasize systematic writing instruction and development of communications skills in early grades.

In Maryland, 12 percent of fourth-graders and 13 percent of eighth-graders were “below basic.”

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for Maryland’s Department of Education, said the state showed most of its improvement among black children in city schools.

“In fact, a lot of this improvement has been fueled by children of lower-income [families],” he said. Maryland eighth-graders increased their average writing scores by 10 points over 1998, he said.

Other states with above-average scores were Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Vermont.

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