Writing Preparation in Tennessee

Tennessee Department of Education

Tennessee Department of Education

At the Tennessee Department of Education, we believe that data and research should inform every aspect of our work. Our Office of Research and Policy  provides us with the internal capacity to carry out in-depth analysis that looks at the impacts of department policies on students and teachers. Our hope is that these findings can influence practices across the state to help Tennessee students achieve at new levels.

The department is excited to share a new research report on writing preparation in Tennessee. In this post, a department staffer breaks down the highlights and explains some valuable lessons learned.

By Laura Booker, Policy Analyst, Office of Research & Policy

Every spring, as students take the annual state Writing Assessment, they fill out a 10-question survey about the kind of writing they engage in most frequently. This survey offers important insight into writing preparation taking place across the state. This information is crucial because students’ writing skills are a central indicator of their college and career readiness.

Most students in Tennessee write in school at least weekly, although about 20 percent write only a couple times a month or less. At the same time, only around half of students report writing in classes other than English language arts at least weekly.

Students vary dramatically by grade level in how they feel about writing. In the lower grades, more than three-quarters of students report that they like to write at least half of the time. In high school, less than 50 percent of students give the same response (see the chart below).

Compared to 2013, Tennessee students report more frequently writing outside of English language arts (ELA) classes, working in pairs to discuss writing, and making notes or an outline before writing.

Using data from the 2013 Writing Assessment and survey, we found that students who reported more frequently engaging in these activities had higher Writing Assessment scores than their peers with similar TCAP and EOC test scores (click here to see the 2013 report). Student responses in 2014 also showed that over half the time they write, it is about something they had read. Research has identified these writing practices as key to student success, so we hope that the frequency of students engaging in these practices will continue to increase.

With the ever-increasing emphasis on technology, we found it exciting to see that students reported large increases in the frequency of writing using computers at school. For example, in 2013, just 32 percent of third graders said they sometimes used computers for writing. In 2014, the percentage doubled to 60 percent.

This increase is likely in response to need to prepare students for computer-based testing as well as for preparing them with the writing skills needed in the 21st Century.

Despite this progress, most students reported rarely using computers for writing at home. This is especially surprising since almost 90 percent of students reported having access to a computer at home. While fewer economically disadvantaged students reported having a computer, 78 percent said they did.

Overall, the state-level results show that while we are making progress in getting students the writing practice they need, we still have work to do. District and school survey reports will be available through the CORE regional offices in mid June. Writing Assessment scores will be available in late July.

Download the complete report.