Monday, February 14, 2011

September 19976: Coherence and Mechanics in Writing

Archive 20: Articles and ideas published in the past that are of interest today in the 21st century.

Question: Did seventeen-year-olds improve in mechanics and in writing quality from 1969 to 1974? Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Answer: “The findings for seventeen-year-olds are based on an analysis of a sample of the 2500 essays written…in 1969 and in 1974. First, the essays from these two years were mixed together and then given a holistic score (from 1 to 8) by trained raters who did not know in which year the papers were written. Then the papers were given a detailed descriptive scoring by another group of trained raters. All of the raters were experienced English teachers.

“The main findings from this analysis can be summarized briefly in this way: Overall quality and coherence declined from 1969 to 1974; mechanics remained the same.

“More specifically, the mean holistic score dropped from 5.12 to 4.85 (a statistically significant change) and the percentage of papers ranked 4 or better dropped from 85% to 78%. There was an increase in awkwardness, run-on sentences and incoherent paragraphs. Vocabulary (as measured by word length ) became simpler, and there were fewer complex sentences. The percentage of paragraphs scored as coherent declined from 85% to 76%. The best essays in 1974 were as good as the best in 1969…and showing no decline in coherence, use of complex sentences or mechanics. The poorest essays in 1974 were worse than the poorest in 1969. They were shorter and contained more errors.”

Comment: The following summary of the writing results for 2007 as released by Mark Schneider, Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics: “Good writing means you can tell a story, provide information, and persuade people with your words. While we still have a ways to go, America’s students are getting better at writing, with higher scores for both 8th-graders and high school seniors.” The test will be administered again in 2011 and the results released in 2012. RayS.

Title: “Research Roundup: “National Assessment Report of Decline in Writing Performance.” Ed. Charles R. Cooper. English Journal (September 1976), pp. 85-86.

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