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Computers Develop Strong Writers

      (Sept. 15, 20120 -- Students who have access to computers at home and regularly use them for assignments are more likely to be strong writers, a national exam suggests. But it also says just a quarter of America's eighth- and 12th-grade students have solid writing skills.

Twenty-seven percent of the students at each of those grade levels were able to write essays that were well developed, organized and had proper language and grammar — 24 percent were considered proficient, 3 percent advanced. The remainder showed just partial mastery of these skills.

"It is important to remember this is first-draft writing," said Mary Crovo, deputy executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the Nation's Report Card tests. "They did have some time to edit, but it wasn't extensive editing."

Students who took the writing test in 2011 had an advantage that previous test takers did not: computers with spell-check and thesaurus. Previously, young people taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress writing test had to use pencil and paper; the switch was made in line with changes in technology and a need for today's students to write across electronic formats.

Because this was the first version of the computerized test, the board cautioned against comparing the results to previous exams. In 2007, some 33 percent of eighth-grade students scored at the proficient level, which represents solid writing skills, as did 24 percent at grade 12.

Crovo said most students already use such technology as spell-check on a daily basis. Without those tools, she said, "It's as if years ago we had given them a pencil to write the essay and took away the eraser."