Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ACT survey conclusion=More grammar instruction

Today my copy of Aligning Postsecondary Expectations and High School Practice: The Gap Defined arrived in the mail. This ACT analysis of over 35,000 surveys completed by teachers from middle school through post-secondary institutions, including over 7,000 English teachers, yielded ten action steps for policymakers. One flummoxes me:

"Make sure that students attain the skills necessary for effective writing." OK, so far. But here is the next sentence: "The survey responses of post-secondary English/writing instructors suggest that high school language arts teachers should focus more on punctuation and grammar skills to better prepare their students for college-level expectations in college composition courses."

The explanation is that high school teachers ranked topic and idea development higher than postsecondary instructors, who ranked mechanics "more frequently among the most important groups of skills for success in an entry-level, credit-bearing postsecondary English/writing course."

My hope is to better understand this surprising finding by reading ACT National Curriculum Survey: 2005-2006, the booklet that accompanied the policy report. Perhaps I won't be so uneasy after I learn more about the specific survey questions and answers. My second hope, though, is that policy makers will not jump to conclusions based on a single statement that advocates greater focus on grammar and punctuation per se. Policy makers need to be helped to understand the importance of teaching grammar and punctuation in the context of authentic writing.


Linda AK said...

I was a respondent on the last ACT survey (not the current one, but the one a few years ago), which came to virtually the same conclusion. I found the questions maddeningly narrow; the entire survey reflected a different conceptualization of writing/literacy instruction than the one underscoring my own teaching (and I said so in my response!)

I've only skimmed this most recent report, but I was also struck in my skimming that, once again, ACT has managed to reference and validate its own (money making) products as part of the justification for/solutions proposed in the report.

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