The Alexandria school board has decreed that public school students during each quarter next year must produce several written papers, at least one of which must be rewritten until it has perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Alexandria School Board Chairman Carlyle C. Ring Jr. said the board approved the writing program because it "is concerned, in the same way as boards and parents across the country, that in the last five to 10 years there has been a substantial reduction in verbal skills."
The goal of the new policy, which will be a pilot program next school year, is simply to get "quality writing," Ring said.
The plan which calls for specific writing requirements at each grade from first through high school graduation, has sparked some controversy. Some teachers are opposing the program, saying it does not solve the needs of students and teachers.
Shirley Tyler, chairman of the school board's instruction committee, stressed that the policy is flexible and will be adjusted to meet the needs of individual students. The program was set up "in response to the quality of writing we find in our homes and on the job . . . We felt that the skills of students locally and nationally are well below what we like to see, and we felt teachers need to be stressing writing practice," she said.
Tyler added, "So many of the kids, many of them black or from blue-collar homes, come to school and the teachers let them just drift through the system. The board wants this to stop. We're graduating too many students wo can't read and write."
According to the policy adopted by the school board last week, 45 per cent of the instructional time in grades one, two and three is to be devoted to language arts; in grades four, five and six, 40 per cent, and in the secondary grades, one full course credit is required for each year.
The plan states that during each quarter of the school year.
Students in the first grade and in the first semester of second grade must dectate a story to the teacher, writer five sentences about a specific topic and present an oral report.
Students in the second semester of the second grade and in the third grade must write seven 25-word paragraphs, one report of 50 to 100 words and present an oral report.
Students in grades four, five and six are to write seven 50-word paragraphs, one to three written reports of 100 to 300 words and present an oral report.
Junior high students must write seven 50-word paragraphs and two to four writen reports of 200 to 500 words, one of which can be an oral report.
High school students must write seven 75-word paragraphs and three to six reports of 250 to 1,000 words, one of which can be an oral report.
All reports are to be marked for grammatic errors "with reference to the approprite rules," the policy states. In addition, teachers will be evaluated on how well they carry out the writing program.
Some teachers say they are worried about how the new policy will affect them. Janice Plumlee, a third grade teacher and president-elect of the Education Association of Alexandria, said she would prefer it see the writing standards based on reading levels rathan than grade levels.
Jean Hunter, the association's current president, said she believes some kind of writing policy should be established, but doesn't like the one the school board adopted because "it demands quantity with no demand for quality." Hunter, a ninth grade English teacher at Hammond High School, said the standards "just don't answer the needs of the kids."
She said she plans to talk to her school principal next fall to see if she can adapt the new policy to her teaching methods.
Hunter and others noted that a new school superintendent will be hired this ummer to replace John C. Albohm, who is retiring this month. The new superintendent may want to change the standards, she said.
John C. Stubbings, director of secondary education for Alexandria, said the new riting policy will affect not only English classes but all other classes. Written assignments in other classes, such as history, will be marked for proper grammar, punctuation and spelling, he said.
Stubbings said the school staff will take writing samples of each student during the year to determine his or her progress. He said a standardized marking system probably will be established.
A workshop for teachers and administrators will be held this summer to decide how best to install the new writing standards Stubbings said.
Alexandria's action reflects an areawide and national trend of re-emphasizing basics in education.
In April, Fairfax County School SUpt. S John Davis ordered the county's high school sutdent sto produce at least one piece of writing with flawless grammar, punctuation and spelling by the end of the current school year.
Other local jurisdictions report they are also studying programs which stress basic skills such as reading writing and math, or else have already established programs which emphasize composition and grammar.