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Illinois Cuts Writing Exams for Most Students
July 21, 2010

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The Illinois State Board of Education has written out of schools' yearly requirements one of what many people believe is a fundamental skill: the writing exam. As a consequence, requests by teachers for training in writing instruction have fallen off.

Students in 11th grade will still take a writing text, but gone will be the same requirement in grades 3, 5, 6, and 8. The state Board of Education announced that the elimination of a writing exam at those four grade levels would save $3.5 million, at a time when cuts are already being made across the board. A similar move resulted in the same eliminations in 2004, but Board officials reinstated the writing exams two years later after fierce opposition to the cancellations.

The writing exam is not part of the program required by federal education law — that extends only to reading and mathematics. Scores on writing exams have also plummeted in recent years, a point exemplified by this result: only 54 percent of 5th-graders passed the writing test last year. Students in all five grade levels scored higher on reading and math than they did on writing. Complaints from school officials including the longer time needed to grade the writing exams and a perceived inconsistency in grading standards. (Multiple choice tests, by comparison, can be graded my machines and present a very clear picture of how many questions students got either correct or incorrect.)

Illinois is one of the few states to take this action. Even in the current dismal economic climate, the vast majority of other states have maintained their writing exams &#151; if they have them. Federal funding doesn't cover writing exams, so some states don't have them.


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