Writing in Schools Isn't Left Behind

Article excerpt

Byline: Emily Krone


Writing tests don't determine whether schools earn passing or failing marks under high-stakes accountability laws, but local educators continue to fight to keep writing a priority.

It's an uphill battle as schools increasingly devote more time and resources to reading and math - and it paid dividends in state scores reported on a key national writing exam that had Illinois eighth-graders outperforming most of their peers around the country.

"I think that's something we can be pretty proud of," said Sonya Whitaker, director of literacy and social science at Schaumburg District 54. "We didn't abandon writing just because it wasn't being assessed, but we had to be creative."

In 2003, a report by the National Commission on Writing called writing "the neglected 'R,'" warning that decades of school reform movements had focused on reading and arithmetic, to the detriment of writing.

The federal No Child Left Behind Law exacerbated the trend, threatening schools with costly sanctions if they fail to meet standards in reading or math - but not in writing.

Many Illinois educators responded to the shift in emphasis by weaving writing instruction into all subject areas, particularly math and reading.

"It's a necessity because of (No Child Left Behind) that the major emphasis is on reading and math," said Jan Booth, a fifth- grade teacher at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett and a consultant for the Illinois Writing Project.

"But those of us who have been in the game long enough know other pieces are important, too, so we continue to try to become more creative in blending and integrating writing into reading and math," Booth said.

The cross-discipline movement is more than just a way to sneak writing into the curriculum.

Indeed, teachers say, writing and reading are inextricably linked.

"The two go hand-in-hand," said Susan Kajiwara-Ansai, a literacy coach for Chicago schools. "If anything, those who use writing as a vehicle for getting kids to understand text have more success."

Writing promotes higher-level thinking in all subjects, said Cathy D'Agostino, an English teacher at New Trier High School in Winnetka and a writing consultant for the College Board. …