Sweeping Changes Planned For Md. Schools Writing Curriculum

By ROB TRICCHINELLI, Capital News Service

BALTIMORE (September 19, 2007)—A set of sweeping changes to the way Maryland schools teach writing took another step forward Wednesday after approval by a Board of Regents panel.

The panel unanimously approved all recommendations in the PreK-16 English Composition Task Force's report, which aims to boost Maryland students' writing skills.

The proposed changes include better continuity in writing standards from high school to college and reduced teacher workload.

The standards gap between high school and college is "the biggest single issue in the underachievement of students moving through the pipeline," said University System Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan.

"I think everybody recognizes we have to address this," said Mary Cary, an assistant Maryland superintendent of schools and co-chairwoman of the task force. "Writing is thinking in action and we have to act."

"There is no doubt about the human toll on teachers of writing when their workload is excessive," the report said.

The recommendations state that a secondary-level writing teacher should have no more than 80 students and a college-level one should have no more than 60—standards the task force adopted from the National Council of Teachers of English.

"The need to increase the number of teachers is inevitable," said Christine Gira, president emerita of Frostburg State University and task force co-chairwoman.

The report also stated the need for PreK-12 schools to maintain writing portfolios for each student, and for teachers of all subjects—not just English and writing—to be skilled writers.

All prospective teachers should be familiar with the writing process, the report suggested, and they should be able to constructively critique students' writing.

"We need teachers that know how to write," said Cary.

Additionally, the task force recommended that non-English classes should assign frequent writing assignments and that schools should regularly hold professional development sessions to tweak teachers' writing skills.

The task force was formed by the state's PreK-16 Leadership Council, a joint effort of secondary and post-secondary education groups to improve Maryland schools.

In creating the task force, the council sought change in PreK-12 standards for writing and to ensure students were prepared for introductory-level college writing classes.

The changes, approved Wednesday by the Committee on Education Policy of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, will be considered by the full board soon.

An alignment committee, part of the statewide PreK-16 Leadership Council, will take up the issue next month.

Kirwan, who recommended the committee approve the report, called the report and its recommendations "excellent."

Regent Patricia S. Florestano, chairwoman of the education policy committee, pledged the clout of her board in support of the recommendations.

During the meeting at the University of Baltimore, committee members also unanimously approved adding a master's program in landscape architecture to the University of Maryland, College Park.

The new program would be unique in the area and would help preserve the Chesapeake Bay in the long run, said Jack Sullivan, an associate professor and coordinator of the landscape architecture program at the university.

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