Meadville Tribune

April 14, 2013

SUNDAY ISSUE: Cursive-writing crisis

By Mary Spicer
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Call it curlicue writing. Call it script. Call it cursive or even just handwriting — but whatever you call it, the approach to penmanship linking individual letters together with more-or-less graceful curves may be destined to echo the fate of the dodo bird.

The removal of instruction in cursive handwriting from the common core standards for education introduced by the National Governors Association and adopted by 45 states, including Pennsylvania, for implementation next year has education professionals across the country considering their options.

In Crawford County, however, Conneaut, Crawford Central and PENNCREST school districts aren’t making any quick moves.

In fact, superintendents in all three districts agree that the possibility of eliminating cursive writing from elementary classrooms really isn’t even on their radar.

That said, during more than a week of talking to area residents ranging in age from mid-teens to late 20s, one phrase was heard so often that it started to sound pre-recorded. “I learned to write cursive in third grade — and I haven’t used it since junior high,” many have said.

In an age of keyboarding gone wild and smartphones capable of responding to verbal requests, some experts agree that cursive writing is an idea whose time has come — and gone.

However, not everything has gone digital.

Consider, for example, the standardized examinations administered each May to thousands of students who have completed year-long Advanced Placement classes.

Administered by the College Board, the same organization that administers the standardized SAT college entrance exam — where, by the way, an illegible essay response can earn the respondent a score of zero — AP exams cover 34 subject areas. Although each exam is unique, according to the AP website, “the second part of the exam usually consists of free-response questions that require you to generate your own responses. ... in most cases, you’ll be writing your response in pen in the free-response exam booklet.”

A successful score on an AP exam can earn the student college credit.

One might hope that it’s the thought that counts, but researcher Steve Graham of Vanderbilt University isn’t so sure.

In numerous presentations during the past several years, Graham has cited studies showing that a test response scoring in the 50th percentile could raise to the 84th percentile if the handwriting is good — or plummet to the 16th percentile if the handwriting is bad. In a 2010 article in The Wall Street Journal, Graham was quoted as observing that “there’s a reader effect that is insidious. People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting.”

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at