Tests show most students achieve skills in writing

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

When we read about national testing results for grade school students, the tendency is to check how our state, or our school, is doing in comparison with other areas of the nation.

There's nothing wrong with that. This is a competitive country, and we like to know how we stack up in all areas of endeavor, whether it be sports, business or schooling. But, because we are so competitive and comparison prone, we may be missing the important finding in "The National Assessment of Educational Progress."

So what are we missing? As we obsess about how students of Nebraska and Kansas compare with pupils in other states, we may be missing the fact that -- overall -- students in America are doing an outstanding job of preparing themselves for the future.

With each release of the "Nation's Report Card," more evidence of the students' proficiency is provided. The latest proof came Monday when it was announced that 86 percent of fourth graders and 84 percent of eighth graders passed the 2002 national writing test.

Some states -- including Nebraska and Kansas -- did slightly better than that, but it's a matter of one or two percentage points. The reassuring thing is that -- North to South and East to West -- students in the United States are achieving at a high level. It bodes well for the future of this nation that the vast majority of our children have the ability to express themselves on paper.

Of course, it concerns us that 15 percent of America's fourth and eighth graders fell below the national writing standards, but we also recognize some of the challenges causing those shortcomings -- including the problems faced by those growing up in homes where English is the second language.

No, things are not perfect in education. As in all other areas of human endeavor, they're far from it. But, from time to time, it's good to look beyond areas of concern, and acknowledge our school systems' achievement.

While it's not a guarantee of future wisdom, it's comforting to know that -- in years to come -- up to 840,000 people out of a million will have written communication skills. For that, the people of this nation -- most especially teachers, students and parents -- can be justifiably proud.

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