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School of Education Professors Study State of Writing Instruction in Nation's Schools

Contact: Catherine Herman (518) 437-4980

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 22, 2005) -- Two University at Albany professors of educational theory and practice received a $100,000 start-up grant to study the evolution and accessibility of writing instruction at the middle and high school level in the United States over the past quarter century. Judith A. Langer, distinguished professor, founder and director of the Albany Institute for Research in Education (AIRE), and director, Center on English Learning & Achievement (CELA) and Arthur N. Applebee, a leading professor in the department of educational theory and practice will head the National Study of Writing Instruction, a jointly funded project of the College Board and the National Writing Project.

"I'm thrilled to receive this grant to study the state of writing instruction in American schools," said Langer. "Writing is a cornerstone of a literate society, not just for the college-bound, but for everyone. But study after study shows that, in general, students aren't writing well, and too often writing instruction is not doing the job it should. The goal of this national study is to update our knowledge and go beyond—to help us identify what's being done, what's most effective for whom, and to chart next steps for improvement."

"It has been 25 years since the last systematic look at writing instruction in American schools," said Applebee. "This study will give us an opportunity to examine the effects of the many changes over that period—the influence of the extensive inservice activities of the National Writing Project, the recent inclusion of a writing sample on the SAT, and the rise of high stakes testing, among others."

To determine the state of writing instruction, Langer and Applebee will begin with re-analyses of existing databases to develop an overall portrait of writing instruction. Then, they'll examine regional differences, and differential distribution of writing activities and writing instruction across demographic subgroups. This will provide an initial portrait of equality or lack of equality in opportunities to learn to write.

Successive phases of the study will examine in depth how writing is incorporated into each of the major academic subject areas, the cumulative experiences of individual students learning to write, and the contextual factors that support or inhibit effective curriculum and instruction.

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