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The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2011

September 2012

Author: National Center for Education Statistics

PDF Download The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2011 PDF for viewing and printing (3770K PDF)



Cover image of The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2011 report.

Executive Summary

About one-quarter of students perform at the Proficient level in writing

Students’ performance varies by race/ethnicity, gender, and school location

Computer-based assessment provides information on students’ use of word-processing actions

Learn more about the writing results in this short video

writing video image of a girl and a computer

Click here to see the video.

New computer-based assessment of students’ writing skills

Writing in the 21st century is defined by its frequency and its efficiency. It is clear that the ability to use written language to communicate with others—and the corresponding need for effective writing instruction and assessment—is more relevant than ever. Reflecting current practice and recognizing the impact of communication technologies on the way students compose their writing, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered the first computer-based assessment in writing in 2011.

In this new national writing assessment sample, 24,100 eighth-graders and 28,100 twelfth-graders engaged with writing tasks and composed their responses on computer. The assessment tasks reflected writing situations common to both academic and workplace settings and asked students to write for several purposes and communicate to different audiences. The results of the 2011 writing assessment offer a new opportunity to understand the ability of eighth- and twelfth-grade students to make effective choices in their writing and allow for insight into the role and impact of technology on writing education and performance.

For the first year of this computer-based writing assessment, new scales and achievement levels were established. The scales for grades 8 and 12 were developed separately and range from 0 to 300 with a mean set at 150 for each grade. Additional results are reported based on students’ demographic characteristics, educational experiences, and the frequency of engaging in actions available to them in word-processing software.

About one-quarter of students perform at the Proficient level in writing

Twenty-four percent of students at both grades 8 and 12 performed at the Proficient level in writing in 2011. The NAEP Proficient level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students performing at this level have clearly demonstrated the ability to accomplish the communicative purpose of their writing.

Fifty-four percent of eighth-graders and 52 percent of twelfth-graders performed at the Basic level in writing in 2011. The Basic level denotes partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.

Three percent of eighth- and twelfth-graders in 2011 performed at the Advanced level. This level represents superior performance.

Achievement-level results in eighth- and twelfth-grade NAEP writing: 2011

Image of a horizontal achievement-level bar chart for grade 8. In 2011, percent of students scoring below Basic = 20; at Basic = 54; at Proficient = 24; at Advanced = 3.

Image of a horizontal achievement-level bar chart for grade 12. In 2011, percent of students scoring below Basic = 21; at Basic = 52; at Proficient = 24; at Advanced = 3

NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011 Writing Assessment.

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Students’ performance varies by race/ethnicity, gender, and school location

At grade 8, average writing scores were

  • higher for Asian students than for other racial/ethnic groups;
  • higher for female students than for male students; and
  • higher for students attending schools in suburban locations than for students in cities, towns, and rural locations.
At grade 12, average writing scores were
  • higher for White students, Asian students, and students of two or more races than for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students;
  • higher for female students than for male students; and
  • higher for students in suburban schools than for students in cities and rural locations.
Average scores in eighth- and twelfth-grade NAEP writing, by race/ethnicity: 2011 
Characteristic Grade 8 Grade 12
White 158 159
Black 132 130
Hispanic 136 134
Asian 165 158
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander 141 144
American Indian/Alaska Native 145 145
Two or more races 155 158
NOTE: Black includes African American, and Hispanic includes Latino. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011 Writing Assessment.
Average scores in eighth- and twelfth-grade NAEP writing, by gender: 2011 
Characteristic Grade 8 Grade 12
Male 140 143
Female 160 157
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011 Writing Assessment.
Average scores in eighth- and twelfth-grade NAEP writing, by school location: 2011 
Characteristic Grade 8 Grade 12
City 144 146
Suburb 155 154
Town 148 149
Rural 150 149
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011 Writing Assessment.

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Computer-based assessment provides information on students’ use of word-processing actions

Data collected from the computer-based writing assessment provided information about the extent to which students engaged in certain actions on the computer as they responded to the writing tasks. Information is reported for 23 unique actions students performed as they either viewed the writing prompts or wrote and edited their responses.

Results for the student actions are reported as the percentages of students engaging in the action with varying frequency, and the average writing score for those students. For example, at both grades 8 and 12, students who used the thesaurus tool more frequently scored higher on average than students who engaged in this action less frequently. Twelve percent of eighth-graders and 15 percent of twelfth-graders used the thesaurus two or more times during the assessment.

Writing Assessment Interface and Select Student Actions

Below is a snapshot of the interface students used as well as data on some of the actions they engaged in while viewing the prompts or editing their responses.

80% or more of twelfth-graders did not use the cut, copy, and paste features. 29% of eighth-graders used the thesaurus 1 or more times.
Image of a screenshot of the interface of a computer based assessment that students used for the 2011 Writing assessment.
71% of eighth-graders used the text-to-speech function 1 or more times. 74% of twelfth-graders right-clicked to access the spell-check option 1 or more times.

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Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing:

PDF The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2011 report PDF (3770K PDF)

NCES 2012-470  Ordering information


Suggested Citation
National Center for Education Statistics (2012). The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2011 (NCES 2012–470). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

Watch a video executive summary and hear thoughts from Associate Commissioner Peggy Carr. Visit the Nation's Report Card website.

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Last updated 15 October 2012 (RF)
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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
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