Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Computer shortages in Oregon public schools means about three-quarters of students will still take the paper writing exam with no spell check technology.
Computer shortages in Oregon public schools means about three-quarters of students will still take the paper writing exam with no spell check technology. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
You don't have to be a good speller to be a good writer. That's the message the Oregon Department of Education is sending its students.
On Wednesday, students across the state will start taking their standardized writing exams, and for the first time, those doing their essays online will get to use spell check.
For some students at East Portland's Parkrose High School, using spell check on the state's required writing exam makes a lot of sense.
"Nobody is a perfect speller. People have gone through school, they haven't done so well at spelling and still turn out successful," says junior Jerry Hunter, who points out that spell check is everywhere, even on cell phones. "It's a good tool just to keep with you. I don't think kids should be denied of that. It might even benefit us in the future."
Spell Check Is A Crutch
But some of Hunter's classmates worry that spell check is a crutch they don't want to rely on. When junior Ashley Smith sits down for her test, she says she'd rather not have spell check because she won't have it when taking the SAT or Advanced Placement exams.
"If we always constantly use spell check, then what about when we get in situations like [the SATs]?" she says. "When we don't have it, we'll get completely confused and maybe even fail it, because [spelling is] one of the parts that they grade you on."
Oregon will allow students starting in the seventh grade to use spell check to point out misspelled words — but it won't correct them for the student. It also won't catch grammar mistakes, or tell students if they used the wrong spelling of there or their, for instance.
Incorporating Newer Technology
State education officials say another important test also allows spell check: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is often called the "nation's report card."
State schools superintendent Susan Castillo says it's important to incorporate newer technology into assessments. She's hoping that spell check can help students focus on more abstract writing skills. She compares the use of spell check to architects who use software to do their actual drafting.
"With the use of computers, that basic function work is done for them," says Castillo. "And they are free to be creative and innovative."
Nerissa Ediza, who teaches English at Parkrose High, says this doesn't mean English teachers aren't still teaching spelling. But Ediza says this will help students who struggle with things like dyslexia.
"[They] are good writers, but that one little thing gets in the way of them passing," Ediza says. "And this is a high-stakes test. They need to pass it to graduate."
The 'Paper-Pencil Test'
But not all Oregon students will get to use spell check on their writing exams. That's because, despite the Portland area's reputation for technology firms, computer shortages in schools there mean only about one-quarter of students are expected to take this year's writing test online.
Portland's David Douglas High, the state's largest high school, won't have computers for the writing test.
"You can't compare a student who's taken a paper-pencil test to a student who's typed up a test and had any sort of technological advances like spell check," says Michelle Wood, an English teacher at David Douglas.
Oregon education officials contend that all students can use dictionaries and other spelling tools. They plan to watch the results closely to see if there's a significant difference. Regardless, officials say online testing is the direction the state, and likely the nation, is headed.