National study tests students' writing skills via computer - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

National study tests students' writing skills via computer

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WAVERLY (KWWL) -

The U.S. Department of Education has released "The Nation's Report Card" (2011), giving us a snapshot of the writing abilities of America's children.

The study suggests only 27% of students in the U.S. are "proficient" -- meaning they have a solid understanding of grade-level writing skills. About 80% perform above the "basic" level. The test revealed other learning gaps depending on a student's race, socio-economic status or gender.

The results of the study are consistent with what the department has found in the recent past. But the way the students took the test this year is very different, and reflects a changing environment in many classrooms.

That includes Wavery-Shell Rock Middle School classrooms -- where all students have an iPad for school use. The device has its perks. It knows if a student misspelled a word before they do.

"It has spell check, so it's hard to misspell a word," 8th grade student Grace Reyerson.

If they forget a term, the right one is a finger-swipe away.

"With the Internet and all the apps that you have," explained 8th grade student Austin Phyfe.

It may seem like cheating for those of us who grew up with stacks of encyclopedias. But W-SR principal Steve Kwikkel says, we need to throw out that bias and accept the wave of the future.

"Somehow, we as educators have to really get over ourselves and begin to embrace the notion that learning is no longer something we keep confined and parcel out. Because now kids can get to computers or whatever and find what they want right now, and we're playing catch-up," said Kwikkel.

The Department of Education wanted to more accurately capture, and gauge, the writing skills of this tech-centered generation. For the first time in more than 40 years, "The Nation's Report Card" tested students via computer -- checking not only their grammar, but also noting how often students utilize spell check, hit the delete button, or pull up the thesaurus. The findings: those who frequently use these tools scored higher than their peers.

"By and large it allows that writing process to happen in a very fluid, real-time manner and students aren't having to stop and go over and check the big old Webster dictionary and then come back and transcribe the word. Now it's just a nice, fluid moment in both reading and writing," said Kwikkel.

Students say they are still learning the proper way to write.

"Last year we did a lot of sentence formulas and we do a lot of outlining," said Phyfe.

But technology does remove some of the barriers, allowing students to enjoy writing without fear of imperfections.

"You don't have to guess and get it wrong. It's just always there helping you," said Reyerson.

"The Nation's Report Card" suggests students whose teachers encourage the use of computers for creative writing, scored higher than those whose teachers do not utilize technology.

You can view the report yourself by clicking here.

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