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Counting on Grammar: What's the right recipe for achieving success in writing? According to the Connecticut state school board, it's three parts composition skills and two parts grammar.

Craig Toensing

That's the mixture the panel approved this month when it settled what turned out to be a thorny question: How much should each section of Connecticut's annual writing assessment "count" when figuring whether students achieved the state's performance standards?

Given in the 4th, 6th, and 8th grades, the exams consist of two portions. One has students compose their own prose; the other poses multiple-choice questions on the rules of writing. The latter has carried no weight, however, in determining if students meet performance goals.

Last month, the state board began considering a suggestion that the multiple-choice section count for 40 percent of the scores.

But in a turn that some found ironic, the leadership of the Connecticut Council of Teachers of English argued that giving so much weight to writing mechanics would devalue good composition.

"Grammar is important; you're also looking for clarity of thought, organization, and elaboration," said the council's president, William McCarthy.

Such comments sparked a flurry of newspaper columns and letters to the editor as educators, parents, and others debated whether the mix should be 60-40, 70-30, or 80-20. "The writer who disregards grammar is like a shortstop who eschews a glove," read a typical editorial in The Hartford Courant.

Amid the controversy, the state board delayed a decision for three weeks. But in the end, it voted Oct 4. for the 60-40 breakdown recommended by state education officials. Said board Chairman Craig Toensing: "We felt there should be strong fundamentals underpinning all the disciplines."

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 20, Issue 7, Page 14

Published in Print: October 18, 2000, as State Journal

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