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Educators Rank Importance of Writing Elements

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NEW ORLEANS--A new survey of high-school English teachers and their counterparts in higher education suggests the two groups hold different views on the teaching of writing.

More than 1,900 educators were asked by the Educational Testing Service last year to rank the writing elements they considered most important for students to know. About 800 high-school English teachers and instructors from two- and four-year colleges responded to the survey, which was intended to provide input for the upcoming revision of the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The results were also contrasted with a similar survey of college educators conducted in 1976.

"In general, there seems to be more agreement between colleges in 1976 and 1991 than there is now between high schools and colleges,'' said Sydell T. Carlton, who conducted the study for E.T.S. She presented the results last week during the annual meeting here of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The college educators, for example, ranked improving vocabulary 40th among 48 elements; high-school teachers placed it 33rd on the list.

"The only guess I can make is that maybe they're [high-school teachers] trying too hard to prepare students for the SŸAŸTŸ,'' Ms. Carlton said.

The high-school teachers also considered knowing how to write a research essay to be more important than college educators did. They put that skill 16th on the list, while college educators placed it 30th. College educators also gave greater weight to writing argumentative essays, ranking it 16th. The high-school teachers ranked it 34th.

There was greater agreement between the groups, however, on the two elements they considered most important for students to know in writing. Educators at both levels said writing a unified essay ranked first, followed by using supporting data.

To slightly varying degrees, they also placed high on the list the importance of students' knowing how to edit and how to arrange an argument logically.

The survey also showed that some writing elements were less valued by college educators in 1991 than they were in 1976. The importance of using idioms properly, for example, dropped from 24th in 1976 to 35th last year.

Similarly, the importance of avoiding dangling modifiers dropped from 21st to 33rd place.

"It could be that some of these elements are not important to them because they don't see it as a problem anymore,'' Ms. Carlton said, "or it's been supplanted by something else.''

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