Reading & Literacy

Survey: Instructor Views Differ On Import of Grammar

By Sean Cavanagh — April 16, 2003 1 min read

The writing skills that college English professors consider most essential— correct grammar and usage—are not deemed as important to high school teachers, a new survey shows.

Read a release on the curriculum survey results, from ACT.

That disconnect may be one reason so many high school students need remedial work in writing when they get to college campuses, according to researchers from the ACT, who documented the findings in their National Curriculum Survey, released last week.

ACT officials say the insights on grammar and usage will help them as they reshape their college-entrance exam to add an optional, 30- minute writing test sometime during the 2004-05 school year.

Cynthia Schmeiser, the ACT’s vice president for development, said the new results of the survey, which the organization conducts every three or four years, generally showed broad agreement between college faculty members and high school teachers on what writing skills are most important. On grammar and usage, however, those views diverged sharply.

Nationwide, 828 high school English and language arts teachers completed the survey, along with 910 college English and composition teachers and 189 college staff members who teach English as a second language and developmental English.

Skills Ranked

Respondents were asked to rank six areas of writing skills by their importance: grammar and usage, sentence structure, writing strategy, organization, punctuation, and style.

For college instructors, grammar and usage placed first, as the most important skill; high school teachers ranked it sixth. By contrast, both the K-12 and college instructors ranked sentence structure second.

The disparity between high school and college perceptions on grammar and usage emerged in a 1998 curriculum survey by the ACT, when college instructors also ranked it No. 1, while the skill ranked sixth in the view of K-12 teachers. Those results differed sharply from 1994, when both groups put grammar and usage in third place.

The new survey did not pinpoint reasons for the divergent views, Ms. Schmeiser said. But the ACT vice president said her organization, based in Iowa City, Iowa, likely will try to answer that question in the months ahead in interviews with individual respondents.

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