I’m not kvetching on Kveller. Honestly. It’s just that I read an article recently in The Chicago Tribune called, “ACT Scores Stagnant for Class of ’15,” and my only reaction was an inarticulate, “duh.”
The nation has apparently realized that not every high school graduate is prepared for the academic rigors of a university, as evidenced by sliding ACT test scores for writing. According to the article, ACT urged policy makers, educators, and parents to try to improve this. Good luck.
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My eldest son is a sophomore in college. In the second grade, his school stopped giving spelling tests. Instead, they focused their attention on preparing students for standardized tests, since improvements in test scores translate to increased school district funding from the state, as well on the national level. While he learned how to compose a five paragraph essay in elementary school, he did not learn how to write a sentence grammatically correct other than understanding the criteria the state was looking for on the writing portions of the tests.
By middle school, grammar was completely eliminated from the English and Language Arts curriculum. Book reports, videos, and art projects replaced critical analysis papers. While I am not against a fun project, these projects replaced more thoughtful ideas that could have been written. My son, who was not artistic, asked his eighth grade science teacher if he could write a paper instead of designing a picture book based on an element he was studying. She said no.
Fortunately, my mother, who was a retired high school English teacher, supplemented my son’s English education. My mother read every paper he wrote from third grade until his junior year in high school. She taught him necessary grammar skills, such as comma placement and sentence structure, not to mention tutoring him for the ACT. These may be my own experiences, but clearly if the ACT committee noticed a trend, it isn’t only occurring in my corner of the universe. If we are not teaching fundamental grammar skills at the base level of school, how exactly will students’ ACT writing scores improve?
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I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeonly Gen-X parent, and no, I am not a tiger, helicopter or other such label; I am simply afraid that we are raising a generation of people who cannot write sentences or paragraphs without inserting an emoji or attaching an acronym. Forget the millennials, it’s the upcoming “Insta-Gen” I am worried about.
My younger son, a junior in high school, will take the ACT this year. While I am sure he will do just fine, many children don’t have the access to ACT tutors or mentors who can teach them how to master the test. My mother passed away last year, so he doesn’t have the benefit of a personal English teacher to guide him, but he does have an excellent tutor to teach him ACT-specific grammar.
In the long term, does that help his overall writing? If my mom wasn’t enthusiastically supplying grammar sheets and Word-Within-A-Word books to my older kid to practice for fun when he slept over at her house, he would not possess the writing ability he has today. While most of his high school education was superb in preparing him for the academic rigors of college, not every senior graduates with such a solid foundation. Based on the Chicago Tribune’s article, we are not heading in the right direction.
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While the country is heavily focused on STEM subjects and careers, and understandably so, is there no longer a place for correctly punctuated words? As of last year, at the high school where my mom retired, the head of the English department felt Acts IV and V of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” were boring. So they didn’t bother reading them. Now that’s a tragedy.