Second R assessed again and again found faltering

* What would it be like to be a goldfish? * Think of some loss you have experienced and describe how it felt. * "Last night a very odd-looking bird appeared in the neighborhood . . . ." Continue the story.

With these and similar questions, the National Assessment of Educational Progress continues to evaluate (every five years) the writing abilities of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds.

The results of the 1978-79 test of writing ability have recently been released and show that:

* Disadvantaged urban youths improved relative to their peers, although they still functioned below the national average.

* Female students wrote a greater number of successful papers thanmale students.

* Black students' papers were closer to the national average in 1979, showing improvement since the 1974 study.

* Few students reported having had any concentrated or frequent lessons in writing. Few had taken remedial writing classes. Not surprisingly, students who wrote better papers reported having had more instruction and practice.

* More than 20 percent of the 13- and 17- year-olds said that they "never" enjoyed writing in school, about one-fifth of the 9-year- olds felt negative about their own writing.

* Each of the three groups was sharply divided: The majority of the students wrote reasonably well, while a minority of 10 to 25 percent displayed "massive problems."

The students were given five writing exercises, and from 2,000 to 2,800 answers were evaluated for each group. Syntax, mechanics, cohesion, paragraphing, and the ability to write a business letter were tested.

Test questions are developed and revised by educators and lay people from all parts of the nation and are revised again by education specialists. The assessment organization judges and publishes the results.

After reviewing the latest papers, the panel concluded: "During the decade of the '70s there was no major chan ge in the writing abilities of most American students."

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