Humanities Indicators
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K-12 Education  >  National Measures of Achievement
 
Writing Proficiency

Like reading, writing is a core humanistic competency measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The exam assesses students’ ability to explain, persuade, or convey an experience to an audience.

Findings and Trends

  • In the most recent pre-2011 assessment year—2002 for fourth graders and 2007 for eighth and 12th graders—close to 90% of students in the two lower grades demonstrated at least basic writing achievement, which reflected modest growth since 1998 (Indicator I-2a). The rise is attributable to an increase in the share of students demonstrating higher-order writing skills.
  • Twelfth-grade performance was somewhat lower and more dynamic than that of the fourth or eighth graders. Seniors’ performance slipped from 1998 to 2002, with the percentage of students scoring at the basic achievement level or better declining from 78% to 74%. But over the next five years the lost ground was recovered.
  • In 2007, the percentage of 12th graders scoring at the basic level or higher was 82%. This gain reflects growth of the share of students who demonstrated basic writing competence. No growth occurred from 2002 to 2007 in the share of high school seniors exhibiting writing proficiency. (Within the NAEP framework, a proficient writer is one who demonstrates a grasp of writing skills that are essential for success in most walks of life; these skills include the use of transitional elements and the ability to select language appropriate for the intended audience.)
  • Since 1998, fewer than one in four soon-to-be high school graduates have been assessed as writing at the proficient level or higher.
  • The sample of twelfth graders assessed in 2002 was from the same cohort of students from which the 1998 sample of eighth graders was drawn. Between early and late adolescence, this cohort’s demonstrated writing ability declined, with 26% of them failing to demonstrate at least basic competency when they were seniors, compared with only 16% of them when they were in eighth grade.[1]
  • In 2011, the distribution of eighth graders among the various achievement levels was virtually identical to that of 12th graders (Figure I-2b). The largest share of students, just over half in each grade, demonstrated only basic achievement in writing. Approximately a quarter of students in each grade level demonstrated true proficiency in writing. At the other end of the performance spectrum, approximately 20% of both eighth and 12th graders scored below the basic achievement level.
I-2a: Writing Achievement of Fourth, Eighth, and 12th Graders, 1998–2007

* The percentage of students scoring at or above this level on the NAEP exam is statistically significantly different (p < .05) from that for the most recent year for which assessment data are presented here.
** The NAEP writing assessment was not administered to fourth graders in 2007.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2002, NCES 2003-529 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003), 21, table 2.1; and U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2007, NCES 2008-468 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008), 9 fig. 3, 37 fig. 20.

About this DataRelated Indicators
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I-2b: Writing Achievement of Eighth and 12th Graders as Measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011*

* The NAEP writing assessment was not administered to fourth graders in 2011. Percentages for each grade may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2011: National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 8 and 12, NCES 2012-470 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2012), 10 fig. 1, 28 fig. 17, http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2011/2012470.pdf.

About this DataRelated Indicators
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Endnotes

[1] The cohort of 12th graders who were assessed as part of NAEP did not include those students who dropped out of school before reaching their senior year. Had these individuals remained in school long enough to be tested, they would presumably have increased the percentage of students demonstrating less than basic achievement in writing.