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NAEP 1998 Writing Report Card for the Nation and the States

September 1999

Authors: Elissa A. Greenwald, Hilary R. Persky, Jay R. Campbell, and John Mazzeo

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Photograph of a young girl writingThe National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the nation's only ongoing survey of what students know and can do in various academic subject areas. Authorized by Congress and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP regularly reports to the public on the educational progress of students in grades 4, 8, and  12. In 1998 NAEP conducted a national writing assessment of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students and a state-by-state writing assessment of eighth-grade students.

This report presents the results of the NAEP 1998 writing assessment for the nation and for participating states and jurisdictions. Students' performance on the assessment is described in terms of their average writing score on a 0-to-300 scale and in terms of the percentage of students attaining each of three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.

The achievement levels are performance standards adopted by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) as part of its statutory responsibilities. The achievement levels are collective judgments of what students should know and be able to do for each grade tested. They are based on recommendations by broadly representative panels of classroom teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public.

As provided by law, the Acting Commissioner of Education Statistics, upon review of a congressionally mandated evaluation of NAEP, has determined that the achievement levels are to be considered developmental and should be interpreted and used with caution. However, both the Acting Commissioner and NAGB believe these performance standards are useful for understanding student achievement. They have been widely used by national and state officials, including the National Education Goals Panel, as a common yardstick of academic performance.

In addition to providing average scores and achievement level performance for the nation and 39 states and other jurisdictions, this report provides results for subgroups of students defined by various background and contextual characteristics. A summary of major findings from the NAEP 1998 writing assessment is presented on the following pages, preceded by a summary of the assessment content.


A Description of the NAEP Writing Assessment

The assessment included a variety of writing "prompts" (topics to which students responded) to inspire students' best "first-draft" writing. The Writing Framework and Specifications for the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress provided the objectives for the writing assessment. This framework, developed by NAGB, represents the expertise and experience of writing teachers, researchers and scholars, business leaders, and policymakers. The six objectives for the assessment, and how they were met, are listed below.


OBJECTIVE 1:

Students should write for a variety of purposes: narrative, informative, and persuasive.
Students at grades 4, 8, and 12 responded to prompts asking for narrative, informative, and persuasive writing.


OBJECTIVE 2:

Students should write on a variety of tasks and for many different audiences.
The 66 prompts on the writing assessment presented students with a variety of tasks, such as writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper, offering advice to younger students, reporting to a school committee, and writing a story in the voice of a character.


OBJECTIVE 3:

Students should write from a variety of stimulus materials, and within various time constraints.
Some of the prompts included pictures, photographs, poems, or stories to inspire students' writing. Some students at grades 8 and 12 received one 50-minute prompt. All other students received two 25-minute prompts.


OBJECTIVE 4:

Students should generate, draft, revise, and edit ideas and forms of expression in their writing.
Each student who participated in the assessment was given a brochure to keep that included suggestions for planning and reviewing writing. Although the assessment time was limited, a planning page was given for each prompt.


OBJECTIVE 5:

Students should display effective choices in the organization of their writing. They should include detail to illustrate and elaborate their ideas, and use appropriate conventions of written English.
The scoring guides used to evaluate students' writing focus on students' abilities to organize their writing, develop their writing with details, and use the conventions of written English to present first-draft writing that communicates clearly.


OBJECTIVE 6:

Students should value writing as a communicative activity.
The writing assessment included "background" questions, given to all participating students, which asked students whether they like to write. It also asked students about their writing practices at school and at home.


Writing Scale Score and Achievement Level Results

Results for the nation

  • Average scores for the nation were set at 150 on a scale of 0 to 300 for all grades assessed (4, 8, and 12). This average can be used as a basis for comparison for states and population subgroups.

  • At grades 4, 8, and 12, the percentages of students performing at or above the Basic level of writing achievement were 84, 84, and 78 percent, respectively; the percentages who performed at or above the Proficient level were 23, 27, and 22 percent respectively. One percent of students each at grades 4, 8, and 12 performed at the highest achievement level, Advanced.

Results for the states and other jurisdictions

  • Of the 39 states and other jurisdictions that participated in the 1998 state-by-state writing assessment at grade 8 and that met the participation guidelines, the following had scale scores above the national average: Colorado, Connecticut, the Department of Defense domestic schools, the Department of Defense overseas schools, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The same group of states, with the exception of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Virginia, were also above the national average in terms of percentages of students at or above the Proficient achievement level.

Writing Results for Student Subgroups

Gender

  • At all three grades in 1998, female students had higher average writing scale scores than their male peers. In addition, the percentage of females at or above the Basic and Proficient achievement levels, and at the Advanced level, exceeded that of males.

Race/Ethnicity

  • At grade 4, the average writing scale scores for Asian/Pacific Islander students were higher than those for White, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students. Also at grade 4, White students had higher average writing scale scores than Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students. At grades 8 and 12, the average writing scale scores for Asian/Pacific Islander and White students were similar and were higher than those for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students.

Parents' level of education

  • Students in grades 4, 8, and 12 were asked to indicate their parents' highest level of education. Consistent with past NAEP assessments, in 1998 students who reported higher levels of parental education tended to have higher average writing scale scores.

Region of the country

  • The 1998 results by region indicated that fourth and eighth graders in the Northeast and Central regions outperformed their counterparts in the Southeast and West. Among twelfth graders, students in the Southeast had lower average writing scale scores than did students in each of the other three regions.

Type of location

  • In 1998, fourth and eighth graders in rural/small town schools and in urban fringe/large town schools had higher average writing scale scores than their counterparts in central city schools. Eighth and twelfth graders in urban fringe/large town schools had higher average writing scale scores than their counterparts in rural/small town schools. Twelfth graders in central city schools had average writing scale scores that were similar to the scores of their counterparts in urban fringe/large town schools and in rural/small town schools.

Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program

  • The NAEP 1998 writing assessment collected information on student eligibility for the federally funded Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program, which provides children near or below the poverty line with nourishing meals. At all three grades, students who were eligible for the Free/Reduced-Price School Lunch Program had lower average writing scale scores than students who were not eligible for the program.

Type of school

  • At all three grades, students attending nonpublic schools had higher average writing scale scores than their counterparts attending public schools. This result is consistent with the findings of past NAEP assessments.

School and Home Factors Related to Writing Performance

Teachers talking with students about their writing

  • At all three grades, over 80 percent of students reported that their teachers talked with them about their writing at least sometimes. At all three grades assessed, students who reported that their teachers either always or sometimes talked with them about their writing had higher average writing scale scores than those who reported that their teachers never did so.

Saving student work in a folder or portfolio

  • Eighty-one percent of fourth graders, 79 percent of eighth graders, and 75 percent of twelfth graders reported that they or their teachers saved their written work in a folder or portfolio. Students who reported that they or their teachers saved their writing in a folder or portfolio had higher average writing scale scores than those who reported they did not save their work in a folder or portfolio.

Computer use

  • At all three grades, over one-third of students used computers for writing drafts or final versions of stories or reports at least once a week. At the fourth grade, 35 percent of students used computers for writing drafts or final versions of stories or reports once or twice a month. At grades 8 and 12, 39 and 42 percent of students, respectively, used computers for writing drafts or final versions of stories or reports once or twice a month.

  • Fourth-grade students who reported using computers for writing drafts or final versions of stories or reports once or twice a month had higher average writing scale scores than those who reported never or hardly ever using computers for this purpose and those who used computers for this purpose at least once a week. At grade 8, students who used computers for this purpose once or twice a month had higher scores than those who did so at least once a week. At grades 8 and 12, students who reported using computers for writing drafts or final versions of stories or reports at least once a week or once or twice a month had higher average writing scale scores than those who reported never or hardly ever using computers for this purpose.

Writing drafts of a paper

  • Over 80 percent of fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students reported that their teachers asked them to write more than one draft of a paper at least sometimes. At grades 8 and 12, students whose teachers always asked them to write more than one draft of a paper had higher average writing scale scores than did their peers whose teachers sometimes or never asked them to do so. At grade 4, there was no relationship between students' reports of writing more than one draft and student performance.

Planning writing on the assessment and in class

  • On the assessment, students were provided a space to plan their writing in any written form, as well as a brochure with suggestions about how to do so. Most students in the assessment were given a test booklet with two 25-minute writing prompts. At the fourth grade, 47 percent of students planned for at least one of the two prompts in their test booklets, as did 66 percent of eighth graders and 67 percent of twelfth graders. At all three grades, students who did visible planning for both writing prompts had higher average writing scale scores than students who did visible planning for one prompt or neither prompt.

  • Students at grades 8 and 12 reported on how often their teachers asked them to plan their writing. Eighty-six percent of eighth graders and 84 percent of twelfth graders reported that their teachers asked them to plan their writing at least once or twice a month. At both grades, students who reported that their teachers asked them to plan their writing at least once a week, or once or twice a month, had higher average writing scale scores than students who reported that their teachers never or hardly ever asked them to plan their writing.

Home Factors

Types of reading materials in the home

  • Students were asked about the presence of four types of reading materials in the home: a newspaper, an encyclopedia, at least 25 books, and magazines. Thirty-eight percent of fourth graders, 51 percent of eighth graders, and 53 percent of twelfth graders reported having all four types of reading materials in the home. At all three grades, the more of these four types of reading materials were reported to be in the home, the higher the average writing scale scores. This result is consistent with the results of past NAEP assessments in a variety of subject areas.

Discussing studies at home

  • Students at all three grades were asked how often they discuss things they have studied in school with someone at home. Seventy-six percent of fourth graders, 69 percent of eighth graders, and 67 percent of twelfth graders reported discussing what they have studied in school with someone at home at least once a week. At all three grades, the more frequently students discussed their studies with someone at home, the better their average writing scale scores. Again, this result is consistent with those of earlier NAEP assessments in many subjects.

This Report

This report comprises six chapters, each focusing on different results of the NAEP 1998 writing assessment. The Introduction frames the results by describing the objectives of the assessment and the kinds of questions it contained. Chapter 1 presents national results, including achievement level definitions and results, and exemplars of student writing from the assessment at each of the three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. This is the first time NAEP has set achievement levels for writing.

Chapters 2 and 3 present results for regions of the country and for subgroups of students (for example, male and female students), by average scale scores and achievement levels, respectively. Chapter 4 provides information about some instructional practices. In that chapter, students' answers to such questions as "how often does your teacher talk to you about your writing" are reported, along with student performance data.

Chapter 5 presents results of the state-by-state assessment done at grade 8, which was the first NAEP state-by-state assessment in writing. That chapter also reports results by subgroups of the population in each participating state or jurisdiction. This information is supplemented by four appendices: Appendix C presents the percentage of students in each subgroup by state or jurisdiction, while Appendix D presents other contextual information, such as expenditures on education, from non-NAEP sources such as the census. Appendix E provides more detailed achievement level results for subgroups of students, and Appendix F presents results for students in nonpublic schools.

Chapter 6 explores in greater depth how student writing on the assessment was evaluated. It shows the scoring guides that were used and reports on student performance in narrative, informative, and persuasive writing. Chapter 6 also provides additional samples of student writing. The student samples and scoring guides may prove useful especially to teachers by giving examples of students' writing for the NAEP writing assessment and explanations of how that writing was evaluated.

The remaining appendices are technical ones: Appendix A provides information about procedures for the administration and evaluation of the assessment, as well as about how subgroups (such as race/ethnicity) were defined. Appendix B provides standard errors for tables included in the body of the report.


PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. 4,038K

NCES 1999-462 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
U.S. Department of Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. National Center for Education Statistics. The NAEP 1998 Writing Report Card for the Nation and the States, NCES 1999-462, by E. A. Greenwald, H. R. Persky, J. R. Campbell, and J. Mazzeo. Washington, DC: 1999.

Last updated 14 March 2001 (RH)

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