Starting in 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress will test how well students in grades 8 and 12 can write on computers, rather than with the old schoolhouse standbys of pencils and paper.
The board that oversees NAEP, called “the nation’s report card,” unanimously approved the change from handwritten to computerized exams as part of a new framework for the writing assessment adopted at a March 1-3 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
In 4th grade, writing will still be tested using a paper-and-pencil format in 2011, in part because many elementary students currently lack keyboarding skills and experience. But the framework encourages a computer-based writing assessment for that grade as well by 2019.
The National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the federally sponsored assessment, approved the changes to reflect the ways in which technology has changed the way people write and the kinds of writing they do. (“On Writing Tests, Computers Slowly Making Mark,” Feb. 14, 2007.)
According to the 2011 NAEP Writing Framework, 100 million blogs—online journals—now exist worldwide, and 171 billion e-mail messages are sent daily. Future writing instruction, it says, must take into account how computers affect both the writing process and the types of text produced.
“One of the things that we’ve seen in sites across the country is a huge increase in the uses of computers for writing, both in school and out of school,” said Richard Sterling, the executive director of the National Writing Project, a nationwide professional-development program for teachers housed at the University of California, Berkeley, which applauded the new framework.
Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the director of national programs and site development for the project, said that while moving to a computerized exam will pose a “tremendous challenge for NAEP,” it’s hard to imagine the assessment remaining relevant “if it didn’t allow students to do composing with digital tools.”
More Detailed Analysis
ACT Inc., the Iowa City, Iowa-based testing company, developed the new writing framework through a process that included research, outreach, and meetings over an 18-month period.
The NAEP writing assessment, given to a nationally representative sample of students, will ask test-takers to respond to two 25-minute writing tasks in grade 4 and two 30-minute writing tasks in grades 8 and 12. The assessments will evaluate students’ ability to achieve three common purposes for writing in school and in the workplace: to persuade, to explain, and to convey experience.
Each writing task will specify or clearly imply an audience for whom the student is writing. The framework also calls for 8th and 12th graders to be able to choose the form—such as an essay, letter, or editorial—that best achieves their purpose.
Besides reporting the results based on scale scores and the percent of students performing at basic, proficient, and advanced levels, the framework recommends that a national sample of responses in all three grades be analyzed in greater depth.
Kathleen Blake Yancey, a Florida State University professor and the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English, who served on a panel of experts studying the proposed changes to NAEP, said in an e-mail that the framework “provides for a more rhetorical view of writing, where purpose and audience are at the center of writing tasks.” The framework also “invites students as writers to compose at the keyboard,” she added, “which provides a direct link to the kind of composing writers do in college and in the workplace, thus bringing this assessment in line with lifelong composing practices.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as NAEP Writing Exams Going Digital in 2011