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When good writing and FCAT writing don't match: A teacher's perspective



The annual FCAT writing test begins in a month, and fourth-, eighth- and tenth-graders across Florida are practicing their skills -- often using prompts that force them to elaborate on things they could hardly care less about.

It's a recipe for potential disaster, Flagler County high school English teacher Jo Ann Nahirny writes in a column for

"I’ve literally prepared thousands of students to take the FCAT Writing test since the very first year the state introduced it. Yet I loathe it -- “it” referring to the test and to the act of preparing students for an absurd assessment which I know in no way measures their ability to write. As Columbia University professor William Zinsser (author of the classic On Writing Well explains, “Rewriting is the essence of writing.” That is to say, the clumsily-written first drafts kids produce under duress in an hour rarely, if ever, resemble what they could ultimately produce, given the opportunity to proofread, edit, revise and rewrite – and learn from their mistakes."

Nahirny shares two of her students' essays that caught her attention for their creativity and excellent writing -- one about farting, and another about drug dealing. The latter student got in trouble for his fictional essay, she notes, asking pointedly whether the lesson is really about writing at all.

A computer program "flagged JW’s paper as inappropriate. The student’s reward was a conference with an administrator, where he was met with the threat of a behavior referral and a phone call to his parents.  Additionally, because he plays on sports team at school, his essay was turned over to his coach who was directed to “deal with this.” JW’s coach shared it with me saying, “You’re an English teacher. What do youthink?”

I think JW’s on track to become Florida’s next Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry. That is, if frequent forced formulaic writing doesn’t prematurely snuff out his creativity. Heck, I want to recruit this kid for my AP English Composition class when he’s a junior next year so he can do some real writing."

We recently wrote about what a couple of Pasco elementary schools are doing to try to improve their writing instruction. What are your experiences with the art of writing, and the FCAT, and how one impacts the other?

[Last modified: Monday, January 28, 2013 9:52am]


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