Does Spell Check Have a Place in State Writing Tests?

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I'm a writer, obviously, and I have always loved writing. My parents owned a typesetting company when I was growing up, and one of my odd jobs was to help out with proofreading. As I continued writing in high school, and eventually college, this skill really paid off. After all, one of the most important steps of writing is proofreading your piece at least once or twice before considering it done. Sometimes it's not even about catching the grammatical errors or misspellings; instead it's about reading over what you wrote to ensure it flows and sounds good. Needless to say, I was taken aback this week when I caught an article about Oregon's decision to allow students to use spell check on state writing tests. Spelling is an important part of the proofreading process, and many students may consider spell check as this final step instead of taking the time to read over their papers. It is possible this decision could lead to worse test scores because some kids could overestimate the power of spell check.

I guess what really bothers me about Oregon's decision is that it places less importance on spelling in a time when spelling needs to be focused upon. Part of me feels the decision makers have never received an email from a teenager. Spelling often gets thrown out the window when writing personal messages, and you are lucky if everything is capitalized properly. With the rise of the Internet and social media as platforms for communication, neither kids nor adults can afford to ignore these rules. Spelling is a core skill needed for writing. If you can't spell, you can't communicate. Have you ever received a serious letter, or maybe a résumé, with misspellings in it? I know I have, and my first thought was to discount the writer and not take them nearly as seriously as I would if they had taken the time to check the document first. I have seen people not get jobs because of misspellings. And yet, Oregon, in an attempt to "better assess students' writing skills and focus less on typos" has made a decision that I think will have negative results. The article even points out that the spell check doesn't catch everything, but I would be willing to bet many kids hit that button and accept whatever the spell check spits out. And this is another reason where I have to question this decision. After all, spell check is unreliable. I use it, but I also have the benefit of an editor to read over my work and tell me when I have missed something. I guess I just can't see how we can test a student's ability to write and remove spelling from the equation. What do you think?

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This page contains a single entry by April Stockwell published on December 21, 2010 1:05 PM.

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