Okay, I’m a writing teacher; my standards for minimal writing proficiency among our young people are high–too high, apparently. On March 9, the Star Tribune published an editorial containing a statistic that gave me pause: “Statewide, 87% of seniors have passed the reading test, and 97% have passed the writing test.”
Now, virtually everyone I’ve asked, including those with no direct investment in teaching and learning, has questioned the accuracy of this claim. Personally, I thought it was a typo. How in the world, I wondered, with all the anecdotal evidence out there pointing to the inferior writing skills of today’s college students and young (but increasingly not-so-young) career professionals, could Minnesota be such an outlier? Surely those “other” states must be doing a horrible job of it, and oodles of their graduates are moving to Minnesota to become lawyers and middle managers whose bosses are having to edit their briefs and memos!
Free Speech Zone
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Well, I accessed the Minnesota Department of Education website and found samples of student essays that passed and failed the (writing) graduation requirement. I read the two samples that represented the minimum effort needed to pass. If you go there, check out the writers’ voices. Count the number of complex sentences. Look for proper punctuation and instances of redundancy. I think you will agree that, while these students succeeded in getting their ideas across, the overall impact is unimpressive and, in my mind, not proficient.
We are doing our youth a terrible disservice. They are smarter than ever, and they are capable of a greater depth of thought. Unfortunately, curricula today are shallow at best, and non-existent at worst. We need to re-introduce that bygone tool, the textbook. We also need to re-introduce rigor into our teacher training institutions; there is no room in our classrooms for teachers who lack mastery in the subject of English.
We operate in a multi-lingual, global economy, and our education systems are becoming international as well. The need for fluent communication is obvious, and it follows that training our young speakers and writers properly and thoroughly is essential. To that end, we must do a better job of educating our future teachers; how else do we dare hold them accountable for student achievement?