Grammar/Usage: I am Still Waiting

Sep 30, 2012 by

by Donna Garner


I have been waiting for six years for someone in the media to take the time to applaud the ambitious efforts of the College Board in 2006 to try to move our nation’s schools back to the teaching of English grammar and usage.

If reporters say anything at all about the way the 2006 SAT is organized, they never seem to mention the fact that the Writing section has two sub-scores, one of which tests students’ English grammar and usage knowledge.

In fact, that sub-score (49 multiple-choice grammar and usage questions) is worth 70% of the Writing score; the essay only counts 30%.


The College Board took one more very ambitious step when it conducted and then published its research report on June 17, 2008 (



This report proves that the best predictor of college success for freshmen is how well students did on the SAT Writing section. (The Writing score was even a better predictor than the Math or Critical Reading scores.)


Since 70% of the Writing score comes from grammar and usage, then obviously the best predictor of college success is how well students know their English grammar and usage.


According to two members of our own family, when Texas gave the first round of new English / Language Arts / Reading tests (STAAR/End-of-Course) in Grades 7 and 9 in March 2012, there were approximately 48 grammar/usage questions on the tests.  The grammar/usage (including capitalization, punctuation, and spelling examples) were tested in the context of sentences and paragraphs and not as isolated entities.


The Texas Education Agency intends to make sure that those 48 grammar/usage questions are a big percentage in each student’s final score because the newly adopted ELAR curriculum standards (adopted in May 2008) stress correct writing skills.  The STAAR/EOC’s are built upon the new TEKS standards.


As Texas teachers become more proficient at teaching correct English grammar/usage and at holding their students accountable in the classroom for correct English skills, our Texas students will assuredly begin to see their SAT scores climb.


To read the article that I wrote after discussing the first round ever of the STAAR/EOC’s (ELAR) with our two family members, please go to the following article – “STAAR-EOC Tests: Picking Alpha’s and Beta’s Brain” – 3.29.12:—-picking/View.aspx



Donna Garner






9.28.12 — Austin American-Statesman – Editorial Board


A bit of good news in latest SAT scores

Fifty-eight percent of Texas high school graduates took the 2012 SAT test. The participation rate was positive news in a report showing lower 2012 test scores in Texas compared with 2011.


Editorial Board



Every once in a while there’s some good news in bad news.



The bad news is the high school class of 2012 scored slightly lower on the SAT college entrance exam than the 2011 class. Average national scores on the reading and writing sections of the Scholastic Aptitude Test were down 1 point each, to 496 and 488 respectively out of a maximum score of 800 each, according to the College Board’s annual SAT report released this week. Math scores stayed at 514.



The national reading score was the lowest in 40 years, part of a decades-long gradual decline. The writing score was the lowest since the writing section was added in 2006, the College Board reported.



The scores for Texas students were worse, down on all three sections of the SAT. The state’s reading score was 470, down 5 points from the year before. The writing score dropped 5 points to 456; math scores fell 4 points to 496.



So where’s the good news? While the scores indicate many of today’s high school students are struggling to master critical skills, the lower scores are not necessarily a result of less-educated kids but of more kids educated well enough to want to go to college. It’s expected that scores would drop a bit as more students take the test.



And more students are taking the SAT than ever before — as well as its competitor, the ACT. The Texas Education Agency reported Monday that 58 percent of 2012 high school students — 156,486 of them — took the SAT. That’s up 5.7 percent from 2011.



The participation rates of Hispanic and black students were particularly encouraging, given the state’s changing demographics. The number of Hispanic students taking the SAT has increased 65 percent since the 2007-2008 school year. Hispanics are driving the state’s population growth. Reflecting that growth, 45 percent — 135,357 out of 298,379 students — of the state’s 2012 public school graduates were Hispanic.



The number of African American students taking the 2012 SAT was up 42 percent over the same period. The number of Asian students taking the test increased 29 percent, and the number of white students was up 9 percent.



Nationally, 755,000 minority students took the 2012 test — 45 percent of all students taking the SAT. More than a third of the students taking the test were children of parents who never went to college — a positive sign of the possibilities and opportunities education opens for a diverse number of students.




Despite the good news regarding participation in the SAT, the latest test scores show that only 43 percent of 2012 high school students are prepared for college, according to the College Board, which administers the SAT.



More students want to go to college and seek the personal and financial benefits a college degree can bring. That’s good a thing, a reason to be optimistic about where public education is going.



But it’s one thing to increase the number of students who want to go to college. It’s another to prepare them to succeed once they get there.



“While I’m pleased with the increased participation, we must improve our students’ readiness for success in college,” Michael Williams, the state’s new education commissioner, said in response to the state’s SAT scores. “I am hopeful that changes the state has made in recent years to our curriculum standards, graduation requirements, assessment and accountability systems will result in improved performance.”



We share the commissioner’s hope. At the same time, as schools pursue the mission of better preparing students for college, they can’t neglect a parallel mission to prepare students who don’t want to go to college to reach for their own productive, meaningful lives. To do otherwise is to continue to see too many students drop out of school.



Further, standardized testing has been ratcheted beyond its initial purpose of assessing achievement. Attaching accountability to assessment is well and good, until it becomes an anchor that threatens schools, stresses students and angers parents.



The world’s increasingly complex, competitive economy demands an educated workforce. Meeting that demand requires proper funding. There is no greater detriment to the state’s economy or drain on its resources than a poorly educated populace.



In bad news about lower scores, good news about participation rates and the desire to go to college. We’ll take that positive news, however fragile. As the numbers about college readiness show, the search for better outcomes — and the debates surrounding that search — will continue.

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