New Report Shows Writing Skills Improving Among Pennsylvania Eighth Graders

A new national study that shows significant gains in the writing skills of Pennsylvania's eighth-grade students further confirms that the commonwealth's education investments are paying off, while also underscoring the need for continued improvement, Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak said today.

"The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2007," released today by the U.S. Department of Education, found that 36 percent of Pennsylvania eighth graders are showing "solid academic performance" in writing. Pennsylvania's performance level is a significant improvement over 2002 and exceeds the national average, which did not change significantly over the past five years.

Yet it also means that nearly two-thirds of the commonwealth's middle school students do not have the writing skills they need to succeed, including nearly three-quarters of male students and four in five low-income students, Zahorchak noted.

"We cannot produce the next generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs if only one out of every three students is making the grade in writing, but these results prove that Pennsylvania is heading in the right direction and renew our determination to keep making progress," the secretary said.

Writing is an essential skill for eighth graders, who are only four years away from entering the high-skills workforce or applying to college. A survey of human resource directors, whose companies are members of the National Business Roundtable, found that large majorities of salaried employees in nearly all industries are required to have solid writing skills as part of their jobs - including in fast-growing parts of our economy.

"These results indicate we continue to make significant strides on the road to ensuring every one of our students is proficient in writing," Zahorchak said. "But, this report card also tells us we are failing to reach too many of our students, and that is why Governor Rendell's plans to invest in student achievement and to ensure that the high school diploma has value are so important."

Governor Rendell has proposed a $2.6 billion, six-year plan to move towards adequate school funding as determined in the General Assembly's landmark Costing-Out Report, which provided the first-ever Pennsylvania specific funding targets for each school district.

The Rendell administration, with strong support from members of the business community and the State Workforce Investment Board, has also endorsed the State Board of Education's proposed graduation requirements which will ensure that all Pennsylvania students show that they have essential skills in the core academic subjects before they earn their diploma, starting with the Class of 2014.

The writing assessment was given to 139,900 eight graders across the nation in 2007. The assessment included three types of writing - narrative, informative and persuasive - and students were scored on a 0 to 300 scale.

Pennsylvania had the ninth highest score among the 45 states that voluntarily participated in the assessment last year, and the commonwealth was among only 20 states that registered an increase in proficiency from 2002 to 2007.

Pennsylvania's performance was bolstered by notable improvements among the student subgroups tested. Among the gains:

-- Average writing scores increased significantly among males, whites, blacks, Hispanics, and students receiving free- and reduced-price lunches.

-- Pennsylvania was among just three states (along with Connecticut and Georgia) that saw scores increase for whites, blacks and Hispanics.

-- The percentage of Pennsylvania students scoring below basic declined significantly among the male, white, black, and free- and reduced-price lunch student subgroups.

"We are outpacing the nation in improving writing skills in part because of the choices we have made to invest in proven education initiatives," the secretary said. "The challenge ahead is to continue building on the solid foundation we have created under Governor Rendell's leadership."

To view the national report, visit To learn more about Pennsylvania's education initiatives, visit