By Van Schoales
If we measure only one skill, it should be writing.
A national commission from a decade ago Writing: A Ticket to Work… Or a Ticket Out surveyed America’s top 120 corporations and found that writing is a “threshold skill” for hiring and promotion in every industry. Two-thirds of salaried employees have some writing responsibility. Half of these companies use writing samples to determine promotions.
Yet, in Denver, only about 43%  of all students are writing at grade level. And if we dig into the data a little more, we see that non-low income students’ average writing proficiency scores are double those of poor kids. In elementary schools 32% of low-income students are proficient in writing, while 70% of their non-low income peers are. In high school the numbers are 27% and 63%. At the school level, writing scores fluctuate wildly from one school to the next (like they do in reading and math). Somewhat surprisingly, scores don’t always follow the usual patterns of poverty.
These charts show how low-income students score on writing tests in several elementary and high schools compared to the DPS writing proficiency average for low-income kids (32% for elementary and 27% for high schools). As the charts show, if you are poor you could be two or three times as likely to learn to write well at some schools than others.
So what is the point?
Are we trying to shame some schools or congratulate others? Do we have a writing program up our sleeves? No. The point is that it is outrageously unfair that a low-income child would be 300% more likely to write on grade level at one Denver school compared to another down the street. Moreover, we should find out why some approaches to writing instruction appear to be more effective than others. We know there are examples out there to watch.
And while teaching students to write takes a lot of time, is hard to do, and difficult to measure, we have to do more of it, particularly for low-income kids. Writing helps students think critically, organize and synthesize information, pass on information and thinking to others, and develop their voice. Writing can be analytic, persuasive, therapeutic, creative. And while effective writing will likely be the ticket to career entry and advancement, more importantly, it is a powerful way for our students to make meaning of the world and themselves.