In the first assessment of how well students write using computers, national scores released Friday show only about one-quarter of U.S. students are proficient in writing.
The test, sometimes called the Nation's Report Card, sampled students in grades four, eight and 12 across the country. Specific results for states and school districts participating were not released.
Officials at the National Assessment of Educational Progress said results of the tests, administered in 2011, were not comparable to previous years because of the changed format, scope and scale.
However, the percentage of eighth-grade students rated as proficient declined significantly. In 2007, the last time the writing test was administered, 35 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or above, compared with 27 percent in 2011. However, the proportion of 12th-graders proficient and above rose slightly, from to 25 percent to 27 percent.
In 2007, when NAEP released state results, California eighth-graders scored sixth from the bottom, tied with students in Alabama, Arizona and South Carolina.
The new tests are aimed to see how well students persuade, explain or convey an experience.
In the 2011 test each student was randomly assigned to respond to two of 22 possible writing assignments. For example, eighth-grade questions included writing a story about exploring a remote island or a letter to a principal about requiring or not requiring community
NAEP moved from the traditional handwritten tests -- still administered to its youngest group, fourth-graders -- to computers because of the significant role they play in writing and the prevalence of computers in students' lives. For the test, NAEP provided computers with word processing tools but without potential distractions -- the ability to change font and color, add clip art or access the Internet.
On the 300 point scale, eighth-grade girls as a group outscored their male peers, 160 points versus 140 points. But the gap among 12th-graders was narrower, with girls scoring 157 versus boys' 143. The computerized test enabled administrators to track how often students used particular tools, finding that those who consult the thesaurus, spell check scored higher than those who didn't.
Forty percent of eighth-graders reported spending 15 to 30 minutes daily on writing, and 21 percent said they spent 30 to 60 minutes daily in class writing.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.