|Writing in Elementary Schools
Elementary school students improve when they
receive praise for the work they have done well and when they receive constructive
criticism for areas to improve. When students begin to learn
they gain confidence that they can handle harder material. In writing,
when students learn how to revise their work, they make great strides to
becoming better writers. While standardized curriculums do ensure
that all schools cover all the basic topics, they limit creativity of the
students and often lead to a little knowledge about many subjects instead
of comprehensive understanding of fewer topics. Along with standardized
curriculums, performance testing limits students by not providing parents,
teachers, or students with effective feedback on a child’s improvement.
The use of performance tests as means to evaluate a student’s writing ability
should be discouraged in elementary schools.
Standardized curriculums that include
performance testing often push teachers to move through a great deal of
material at a fast pace. Teachers often feel pushed for time and
can never seem to fit in everything they need to cover. Amy Dickinson
and Hilary Hylton of Time magazine report that, “Standardized curriculum
and testing in primary schools are causing what educators call “push down”
academics” (1). As a result the pressure to achieve high scores
on tests starts as early as kindergarten. The theory is the more
a student learns in kindergarten the more they can learn in first-grade
and so on. This type of thinking often leads to students spending
less time on social skills and interacting in the classroom with building
blocks and dress-up clothes, and more time sitting still, listening to
the teacher quizzing on the basics. Teachers and childhood-development
experts worry about this problem, and kindergarten teachers across the
nation complain that, “our kids need more play, rather than less, and our
curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep” (Dickinson 2). Without
a standardized curriculum teachers can move at a more reasonable pace and
give students time to fully understand a certain language art skill before
they move on to a subject that might build on the first skill.
Along with standardized curriculums, standardized
tests in language arts do not benefit the student. Writing ability
assessments often just give scores that access certain skills pertaining
to a student’s writing sample. For students that sit at the borderline
of failure, these scores just remind them that they are not as smart as
their peers. In addition, it adds to a child’s “secret suspicion”
that they are not able to learn (Townsend 1). When students have
this feeling of self-doubt they often lose motivation to learn and give
up before trying.
Not only do standardized tests lead to self-defeat,
they do little to help a student improve. The principal of Parkview
Elementary in Chula, California, Dr. Sandra Edwin has found in her experience
that conventional standardized test have many limitations. She feels
that tests do not provide effective feedback that can lead to improvement
in a student’s work (T H E Journal 1). Scores on writing performance
tests just compare students with other students their age. These
scores often are expressed as raw scores and percentages that mean nothing
to parents and tell nothing of a child’s improvement. Also,
tests tend to be graded weeks or months after being given. By the
time the scores are published students, teachers, and parents have forgotten
about the test. These scores focus on the product of writing instead
of the process. Studies have been done that show that most teachers
focus on the “process of writing” because the mastery of that will help
students to become better writers (Daniels 2). If the standardized
curriculum focuses on teaching writing for the assessment test, then the
mastery of the writing process is often lost because the test does not
score based on the process a student goes through to write.
Defenders of standardized testing argue that
assessment tests provide feedback on students across the country.
These test hold schools and teachers accountable by making sure they are
teaching what the curriculum dictates. While in writing this ensures
that student cover many types of writing (explanatory, persuasive, analytic,
etc.) many teachers have found that their students’ writing starts to conform
to state’s rubric (Strickland 2). Their work loses much of its originality
and creativeness, and students become much more bored with writing.
In addition, assessment test do not always accurately portray a student’s
ability. Twenty-percent of elementary school children suffer from
an extreme fear of performing poorly on tests, referred to as test anxiety
(Beidel 2). Students with such a fear do not perform to their ability
on standardized tests.
Educators must find another way to assess
pupils’ writing besides the traditional standardized tests. For writing
assessment to be useful, opportunities for revision are essential because
the struggling to restructure one’s own words leads to a deeper understanding
that can improve a student’s work. Opportunities for revision allow
for a student to gain control of the personal writing process and set personal
goals for their future work. When a student makes revision decisions
about their work they gain control over their work, which increases their
self-confidence (Townsend 3). Writing assessment helps students
improve when it allows for them to evaluate their own work and standardized
writing tests do not do this.
Writing portfolios can effectively assess
students’ writing with the opportunities for students to monitor their
work and see their improvement. Students choose selections of their
writing to include in the portfolio and then they assess their own work
comparing earlier work with more recent selections. Teachers should
act as coaches instead of judges by helping their pupils to see their work
“as fluid, as able to change, not etched in concrete, evaluated as either
good or bad with no opportunity for revision” (Townsend 2). Portfolios
focus on each individual student’s progress and the positive trends in
their writing instead of the negative ones. They also can provide
the parent with clear evidence of his or her child’s progress over time.
Parents, teachers, and students can easily monitor a student’s progress
in writing through portfolios. For struggling students, it gives
them confidence that they can improve which can help motivate them to become
even better writers. For advanced students, instead of just presenting
high scores, it gives them things to work on for further improvement.
Portfolios give opportunities for positive feedback to students by showing
improvement, yet they also challenge students of all levels to continue
Portfolios may not provide comparisons of
students on a national level, but why are these comparisons so important?
Writing is such an individually creative process that educators should
not force one style or method. Instead of teaching students to be
conformists, teachers should encourage individuality and creativity—true
measures of good writing. Portfolios encourage personal improvement
and that is more important than comparison across a national level.
In the early years of a child’s education, it is
critical that he or she have the confidence to tackle challenging assignments.
Standardized curriculum and performance assessment tests often do not give
students the confidence that will lead to self-motivation to learn more.
By teaching the writing process and using writing portfolios as means of
assessment, young students will excel greatly in language arts.
“Assessment Tests Provide Feedback for Elementary Teachers and Parents.”
T H E Journal. Vol. 21, Issue 9. April 1994. http://ehostvgw10.epnet.com/delivery.asp.
(15 April 2002).
Beidel, Deborah C. and Turner, Samuel M. “Teaching Study Skills and
Test-Taking Strategies to Elementary School Students.” Behavior Modification.
Vol. 23 Issue 4. Oct. 1999. http://ehostvgw10.epnet/delivery.asp. (15 April
Daniels, Patricia, Mosenthal, James, and Lipson, Marjorie J. “Process
Writing in the Classrooms of Eleven Fifth-Grade Teachers with Different
Orientations to Teaching and Learning.” The Elementary School Journal.
Ed. Haley Woodside-Jiron. Volume 101, Number 2. Chicago: The
Chicago University Press, 2000.
Dickinson, Amy and Hylton, Hilary. “Kinder Grind.” Time. Vol.
154, Issue 19. 11 Nov. 1999. http://ehostvgw10.epnet.com/delivery.asp.
(15 April 2002).
Strickland, Dorothy S. “Teaching Writing in a Time of Reform.” The ElementarySchool
Journal. Ed. Haley Woodside-Jiron. Volume 101, Number 4. Chicago: The Chicago
University Press, 2000.
Townsend, Jane S. “Writing Assessment: Multiple Perspectives,
Multiple Purposes.” Preventing School Failure. Vol. 41, Issue 2. 1997.
http://web4.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw. (15 April 2002).