THE State Writing Test

Our state writing test is coming up in early March and the tension around it is beginning to rise. Our fifth grades departmentalize, so one teacher teaches writing every day, and the others integrate it into Science and Social Studies some, as well as address it in Literacy and Math as they can, so these kids have gotten lots of practice with writing.

What I see, though, from many of the kids, is quite a bit of this:


In spring of 2013, our writing test will be online, so that all students will do it on the computer. Our teachers have questions about this decision:

Is it best for all kids? Don’t some of us prefer the actual act of writing–pen to paper-to feel that flow of thoughts?  Are we handicapping those kids by forcing them to tell their story through a keyboard?

Will this decision force keyboarding lessons? How fast should kids be able to type?

What about all of those articles that talk about how fast kids can text?  Is this even something we have to worry about?

What about the kids who do NOT text?  Is there an equity issue we need to address?

Will they be allowed, or not, to use a spellchecker? (If integrating contemporary tools, why not utilize the full functionality–is the test on writing or spelling?)

Will the font be fixed, or will they be allowed to use text features as part of their composition (such as bold, underline, italics, etc.)?  They can do that with their handwritten texts, so why not with ones using technology?  They will probably be allowed to use spacing and indenting, so why not the full menu of text features we teach?

But, in the bigger scheme of things, why are we even considering these mechanical kinds of questions about the tools of the word processor?

We have access to the features our state will test through a program called Perspective (formerly NCS Mentor).  Here we can learn about scoring, access anchor papers to show our kids, understand the scoring domains and rubrics, and actually practice scoring actual compositions submitted by real fifth graders.

We can spend a ton of time helping kids understand the process, the scoring domains, rubrics and anchor papers.  Would our time be better spent with kids writing? Some say yes.

I think that our third graders ought to be exploring the access we have to this kind of information.  I believe that when kids clearly understand the expectations and have seen examples–both good and bad–and know the rubrics by which they will be judged, they can more clearly write for the prescribed audience–in this particular case, the test scorers. In this case, the state has provided a reasonable tool by which we can do this kind of teaching. Why not use it–and not just right before the test? Why not make it an integral part of our instruction as one more tool in our arsenal?

However, isn’t the real question this:

Wouldn’t it be better if the state just allowed us to police ourselves and examine our student writing portfolios to see if they can construct a well-organized composition?

7 thoughts on “THE State Writing Test

  1. Paula, thanks for this post. Besides being thought provoking, it has helped me think through actual steps I need to do here at school with writing.

  2. Matt–
    Some of your teachers probably know the NCS stuff, but if you want me to share my experience, I’d be glad to–just let me know.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  3. Hello I am in EDM310 at South Alabama and as I was reading this I can’t help but think how can they give a writing test over the computer. I understand the world is becoming more technology savy but what is it teaching the students if they get to use a keyboard and computer. Also if they are able to use the computer what are the chances they can use spell check and all the other tools. I don’t agree with this way of testing because students will forget how to write a letter or anything “old fashion” because people are using technology to help them. Also sounds like the testing company is getting lazy and wants a computer to grade the test instead of an actually person grading the test.

  4. Hi Paula,
    You raise some interesting questions. Yes, we do need to give our students lots of writing opportunities…authentic opportunities, but we need to balance that with the opportunities to create rubrics and score their own word using those guidelines. That will take some of the mystic and fear out of testing situations. As with many things in life, balance is the answer.
    good luck with all your endeavors

  5. Hi Paula, I am in EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama this spring. I enjoyed reading this post on your blog. I think it is a good idea to give a writing test over the computer. I think that the world is becoming a place where you have to be computer literate if you want to be able to make it. I do think there should be a balance though. I think we need to make sure students that have to use a computer for a test should be properly trained to use the computer and to know how to spell check and use other functions. I also think that students should be able to demonstrate on paper that they know how to write well. Here is a link to my blog.

  6. Ms. Paula White,

    My name is Matthew and I’m an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama. I believe that an online writing test would be a fine idea, as long as it is exactly the same as submitting a hardcopy, only online. To explain this, thins like spellcheck should not be available to students because on a writing test submitted by hand they are expected to know correct grammar and puncuation. And likewise, since on a handwritten writing test students can use bold, italics, underlining, etc. they should also be permitted to use these things in an online test.

    I do have one question of my own: will this test be completed by the students at home, or in a computer classroom monitored by teachers?

    Thank you for your post!


  7. I was thinking the same exact questions about the access to tools like spell check or thesaurus, but feel that proper usage of these tools will be an integral part of teaching the writing process to today’s students. This brings me to another point and that is that this test is for fifth graders. The writing process is approached differently by all students especially those that are inexperienced. Some may write their ideas down on paper first others may have the ability to just let it flow as they are writing. Personally, I did not feel comfortable writing a full five or more paragraph essay solely on the computer until I was a junior in high school. Though many young students are familiar with the uses of technology, it seems that many are still not able to differentiate the techniques or formatting of formal writing vs the habits of texting or online chatting. With this in mind, it seems that they would need more hands on practice with formal writing using a computer as opposed to pen and paper. This will mean that the approaches to class writing will have to change consistently throughout the curriculum to prepare and allow the most practice and application of the writing process that is tailored to computer testing. I personally think that this is the direction educators and students should expect and therefore prepare students both academically and professionally for these experiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *