Currently, selected youngsters throughout the United States are tested on their ability to write as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The designers of this writing test devised a method by which students could actually compose an original statement and have it graded in such a way that one child's statement could be fairly judged against that of another pupil's.
The testing has been considered so successful that some school districts are trying to adapt not only the methods of evaluating writing assignments, but the assignments themselves.
James D. Atwater (parent, school board member, and magazine editor) has written a very brief but eminently clear little booklet telling about the writing test, which is available from the Ford Foundation, Office of Reports, 320 East 43rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10017. Ask for ''Better Testing, Better Writing.''
Mr. Atwater explains in this 36-page report that a test focusing on a ''primary trait'' holds much promise not only for assessing how well a child already writes, but for helping students learn to write.
He cites what he terms the ''most playful and evocative'' of three writing tests given as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
This test asks for an original composition. Directions are:
''Pretend that you are a pair of tennis shoes.
''You've done all kinds of things with your owner in all kinds of weather.
''Now you are being picked up again by your owner.
''Tell what you, as the tennis shoes, think about what's going to happen to you. Tell how you feel about your owner.''
Now, the test readers may give a 1, 2, 3, or 4, depending on how the writer has accomplished the ''primary trait,'' or primary purpose, of the exercise.
Score 1 means that the writer has shown no evidence of an ability to enter into the role.
Score 2 is given for ''showing some evidence of entry into the role and expression of feeling through the role.''
Score 3 is given for showing the desired primary trait.
And score 4 is reserved for ''demonstrating consistent, vivid, and expressive elaboration of the role.''
Apparently most scorers, reading dozens of the responses to ''tennis shoes,'' agree on which ones should get scores of 1, 2, 3, or 4.
Adapting this technique to classroom teaching has been tried in a number of school districts.
It is this adaptation that Mr. Atwater features in his Ford Foundation-sponsored report.