Delaware’s New Writing Standards Seek to Improve Lagging Skills in K-12 Students
Implemented this year, the new standards require more nonfiction education and writing, as well as history, social sciences and more.
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Lara Buckheit, a 19-year-old aspiring journalist, has long held a passion for writing She admits that she was one of those students who thrived in her Indian River High School English courses, analyzing in detail the Old English epic poem “Beowulf” and William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” among other typical samplings of classic literature.
As a communications major at Delaware Technical Community College, however, Buckheit’s assignments are very different, demanding skills from her that were not honed earlier.
“We’re expected to learn how to express our opinions and identify arguments that will enable us to debate a variety of topics,” she says.
The reality for Delaware high school graduates is that they must carefully maneuver a gap in content and focus between high school and college English classes. Today’s college English courses require more use of reasoning, logic and argumentation instead of the typical literary analysis and self-expression that has been taught in school for generations.
“We have determined that there are deficiencies in student writing skills,” says Shelley Rouser, an associate with the Delaware Department of Education. “More students are going to remedial classes in college.”
Part of the reason, she says, is that high school students have not been assessed in writing since 2010, when Delaware replaced the Delaware Student Testing Program with the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System. Teachers have placed less emphasis on writing and more on the skills that are included in the statewide assessment.
The deficiencies in student writing are also more prevalent now, as the state’s leading educators revamp how they teach under the common core state standards. The set of national benchmarks, adopted by nearly every state, addresses the skills public school students should master in language arts and mathematics in grades K-12. Rouser is leading the state’s Common Core implementation.
The new standards, which went into effect this year, require more exposure to nonfiction writing, as well as history, social studies, science and technical documents. The national standards require that nonfiction titles make up 70 percent of the 12th grade curriculum.
Common core standards are a clear set of shared goals and expectations that determine what knowledge and skills will help students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. But the bottom line is that educators must rethink the teaching of reading and writing.
“We will be focusing on writing with more rigor, and we’re showing all the content teachers what (good writing) looks like,” Rouser says.