Students need write stuff

Nobody says writing is easy. As Ernest Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

But if students don’t learn to write while they are in school, even bleeding won’t do any good. And if recent National Assessment of Education Progress tests are on target, students in Charleston County public schools aren’t learning this critical skill.

Results of the writing test, released last week, show only a quarter of students in the eighth and 12th grades have solid writing skills. A mere 3 percent scored as advanced.

Even more disappointing, these scores don’t even reflect a student’s lack of spelling acumen or word knowledge. In this round of testing, they enjoyed the advantage of using computers with spell-check, a thesaurus and punctuation aids.

Perhaps it should not be a surprise that students, too many of whom cannot read at grade level, cannot write well. Unfortunately, that also means they are less likely to master math, history, science and social studies. They are less likely to get into college or write a compelling letter as part of a job search.

The Charleston County School Board has said that student literacy is the district’s No. 1 goal. And indeed, since that effort began in 2010 student reading has improved. But educators agree they have far to go to ensure all students read at grade level. And until students are able to read good writing, they are less likely to be able to produce good writing.

It makes sense that the Charleston County schools have daily writing workshops for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. But educators should be looking for other ways to foster reading and writing skills among their students. What is being offered is clearly not enough.

In Dorchester County, for the first time this year, middle-school students are taking stand-alone writing classes.

Berkeley County schools’ focus is on persuasive writing for sixth graders through high school. The district also has an internal writing conference in the fall and spring.

Perhaps the first writing assignment students in all three counties should be given is to explain why learning to write well is such a vital part of being educated. Perhaps the second writing assignment could be to describe the missed opportunities and roadblocks encountered by people who are unable to express their thoughts cogently in writing.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Good advice. But unless students learn how to write, chances are slim that they’ll do something people would want to read about.