MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day to Day. Just a third of 13-year-olds can write a cogent essay. Only a fourth of high school seniors can. Those are the results of a new national survey. Amanda Avallone helped oversee the report from the National Assessment Governing Board. It's known as the Nation's Report Card, and she is also an eight-grade English teacher in Boulder, Colorado. Welcome to the program.
Ms. AMANDA AVALLONE (Vice Chair, National Assessment Governing Board; Assistant Principal and Teacher, Summit Middle School, Boulder, Colorado): Thank you very much for having me.
BRAND: Well, those statistics sound pretty grim. Any good news?
Ms. AVALLONE: Well, yes, there is some good news, and that is, when it comes to things like the Nation's Report Card, we're always very interested in trend, and if we look at that perspective, we see considerable signs that things are moving in the right direction, scores rising in virtually every racial and ethnic group genders. It's really across the board, and that part of it, I think, is encouraging.
BRAND: But a third of eight graders can't write a cogent essay? That's...
Ms. AVALLONE: Well, definitely. That's the other side of the coin. We celebrate the movement in the right direction, and at the same time, we recognize that we are certainly not done. If you look at the rise in scores, a lot of the growth has been in the lowest performers, the 10th and the 25th percentile, for example. And so, what I'd like to see happen next, as an educator, is seeing similar score gains at the higher level, so that more and more students are performing at that proficient level.
BRAND: Mm hm. So, why are the scores improving? Is it because of No Child Left Behind?
Ms. AVALLONE: Oh, that's a great question...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. AVALLONE: And everyone always wants to ask that. And I think trying to find causation is something that - you know, the data will not tell us that, and that is sort of the goal of policymakers and secondary analysis.
BRAND: There are some statistics in this report that are quite eye-opening. And one is that boys do a lot worse than girls.
Ms. AVALLONE: Absolutely, that was an aspect of the report that really caught my attention as an English teacher. One of the things that has occurred to me is there may be lower expectation for boys in the area of literacy. We may be sending a message, somehow, that boys are not able to write. And from my own experience in the classroom, I do know that boys tend to have a lower sense of self-efficacy when it comes to writing. Even if they are performing well, they tend to think that they are not good writers.
BRAND: So they tend to think, well, writing, that's a girl thing, and I shouldn't try as hard?
Ms. AVALLONE: To some extent, yeah. They defer to their female classmates. Even my strongest boys, when I told about the report, right before I went to Washington, they said, well, what are you going to say about boys and writing? And I said, well, I'm going to say that I - there is no reason why boys can't write as well as girls, from my experience. And they looked at me and they said, is it too late for you to change your topic, Ms. Avallone? They really didn't believe in themselves as writers.
BRAND: So what would you do, as a teacher, to teach differently to get boys' scores up?
Ms. AVALLONE: Well, personally - again, this is just speaking as a classroom teacher who's been teaching for more than 20 years. I experiment with boys by allowing for both genders as much topic choice as possible. I also tried just this year, for the first time, something that seems to violate the rules of good writhing, and I had the kids write in teams.
It perked boys up. They liked to tap into a notion of perhaps a competitive element. And so, I think that there's a long way to go still in research about ways that we can have the same high standards for all students. But perhaps, explore new ways to invite students to show us their best work.
BRAND: Amanda Avallone is an eighth-grade teacher in Boulder, Colorado. Also a member of the National Assessment Governing Board which issued the Nation's Report Card this week. And Ms. Avallone, thanks for joining us.
Ms. AVALLONE: Oh, I'm very happy to be here.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.