- Created on 14 September 2012
Just a quarter of eighth and 12th grade students in the United States have solid writing skills, even when allowed to use spell-check and other computer word processing tools, according to results of a national exam released Friday.
Twenty-four percent of students at each grade level were able to write essays that were well developed, organized and had proper language and grammar. Three percent scored as advanced. The remainder showed just partial mastery of these skills.
"It is important to remember this is first draft writing," said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which administers the Nation's Report Card tests. "They did have some time to edit, but it wasn't extensive editing."
Students who took the writing test in 2011 had an advantage that previous test takers did not: a computer with spell-check and thesaurus. Previously, students taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress writing test had to use pencil and paper, but with changes in technology, and the need to write across electronic formats, the decision was made to switch to computers.
Orr said students use technology and tools like spell-check on a daily basis. "It's as if years ago we had given them a pencil to write the essay and took away the eraser," she said.
She said word processing tools alone wouldn't result in significantly better writing scores if students didn't have the core skills of being able to organize ideas and present them in a clear and grammatical fashion.
Still, students in both grades who used the thesaurus and the backspace key more frequently had higher scores than those who used them less often. Students in the 12th grade who had to write four or five pages a week for English homework also had higher scores.
Because this was the first version of the computerized test, the board cautioned against comparing the results to previous exams. In 2007, 33 percent of eighth grade students scored at the proficient level, which represents solid writing skills, as did 24 percent at grade 12.
The results at both grade levels showed a continued achievement gap between white, black, Hispanic and Asian students. At the eighth grade, Asian students had the highest average score, which was 33 points higher than black students on a 300-point scale. At the 12th grade, white students scored 27 points above black students.
There was also a gender gap, with girls scoring 20 points higher on average than boys in the eighth grade and 14 points higher in 12th grade. Those who qualified for free and reduced price lunch, a key indicator of poverty, also had lower scores than those who did not; there was a 27 point difference between the two at the eighth grade.
For the 2011 exam, laptops were brought into public and private schools across the country and more than 50,000 students were tested to get a nationally representative sample. Students were given prompts that required them to write essays that explained, persuaded or conveyed an experience.
Kathleen Blake Yancey, a professor at Florida State University who served on the advisory panel for the test, said one factor to keep in mind is that research shows most students in the United States don't compose at the keyboard.
"What they do is sort of type already written documents into the machine, much as we used to do with typewriters four decades ago," she said.
Yancey said for this reason, there was some concern about having students write on the computer as opposed to by hand. Likewise, having the advantage of spell-check assumes students know how to use it. And in some schools and neighborhoods, computers are still not easily accessible.
"There are not so many students that actually learn to write composing at the keyboard," she said.
Yancey added that many kids who do have access to computers are not necessarily using them to write at school, but to take standardized tests and filling in bubbles.
"Digital technology is a technology," she said. "Paper and pencil is a technology. If technology were the answer, that would be pretty simple."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
- Created on 14 September 2012
While 20 percent had no opinion on the matter, 58 percent of respondents backed Obama, with only 22 percent believing that Romney could actually beat the President in hand-to-hand combat.
And there is evidence to support the majority’s beliefs.
Shortly after winning the 2008 election, the UK Telegraph posted 50 facts most people don’t know about Obama. A master at the right-hook? President Obama owns a pair of boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali. Strong-man? The commander-in-chief can bench 200 pounds. Let’s not forget the basketball enthusiast that he is, which could translate into better stamina if he knuckled up with Romney. Having lived in Chicago’s rough Southside area, that’s easily another plus for Obama.
Watch Obama’s training r...
- Created on 11 September 2012
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Karen Nichols wanted a life unchained to the monotony of twice-daily dog walks, so she got herself three cats. But she still strolls the neighborhood on nice days —with her cat Skeezix.
Nichols took part in a program recently that encouraged finding ways to bring out the wild nature in her cat. Some cat behavior problems stem from boredom, which can be stymied by enriching their environment and involving them in activities, experts told the class.
So Nichols started training Skeezix to walk with a leash before he turned 1. It took a couple of weeks to get him used to a leash and a stroller. (Skeezix goes into the stroller when a dog approaches.)
"You must be patient and devote time to the training every day, but if it's apparent after a week or so that your cat detests it, you need to give it up," said Nichols, who lives in Castro Valley near San Francisco and is the managing editor of Mousebreath Media and mousebreath.com, an online cat lifestyle magazine.
The United States is home to more than 74 million pet cats, according to the American Pet Products Association. Although the overwhelming majority of domestic cats likely have never been on a leash, every cat should be comfortable on a leash, in a carrier and traveling in a car, Nichols said.
Training a cat involves patience, repetition and food or treats while getting it used to wearing a snug harness, being leashed and walking. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have instructions on their websites.
Whether a cat is ready for a walk depends on its personality. Friendly, curious, mellow and confident cats are good candidates, while scaredy-cats are usually indoor lurkers and prefer to stay that way, said Nancy Peterson, the humane society's cat programs manager and a registered veterinarian technician.
Disabled cats, including ones that are declawed, deaf or blind, should not be walked, because if they get loose, they cannot defend themselves, she added.
Unlike dogs, cats should be kept on a tight leash. With a longer lead ‚Äî anything more than 6 feet ‚Äî a frightened cat might shimmy under a car, jump over a fence or dive around a corner.
"You always want your cat in sight and within grabbing distance," Peterson said.
When Peterson and her four cats moved from San Diego to Washington 15 years ago, she could only take two of them to put under the airplane seat. Friends went ahead of her with the other two. They warned her she'd have to take the cats out of their carriers to get through security.
"I had harnesses on both cats and two leashes with me," she said, but she still demanded a closed room before she opened the carriers.
JaneA Kelley, a cat owner in Portland, Maine, said she gave her cat Siouxsie leash training because she wanted to see if the cat would be interested.
"I was surprised to find out that she was actually pretty into it," said the webmaster for the cat blog Paws-and-Effect.com.
She cautioned, however, that a cat walk might not be for every feline: "If your cat is shy, I'd recommend against traumatizing her by forcing her to do something that scares her."
Cat-walkers should watch out for poisonous plants, chemicals and insecticides and protect their feline charges against fleas, ticks, heartworm and other parasites, Peterson said. Winter walks mean looking out for antifreeze or salt products on the ground, while owners of white cats should be mindful of skin cancer in excessive summer heat, she said.
Whether or not a cat can go for a walk, teaching it to wear a harness is a good idea, said Lisa-Maria Padilla, whose cat Twyla Mooner won the Cat Fanciers Association first national agility award a few years ago.
"It's not just to go to the vet. It increases the cat's sensory experiences and enriches the cat. It makes it safer when we have company and easier to get the cat in case of emergency. The cat becomes more portable," said the cat trainer from Reston, Va.
Every cat she breeds is trained to wear a harness, she said.
Ultimately, though, the decision to walk a cat is up to the owner. Peterson, who trained three of her cats to walk with leashes, said she no longer takes out the one cat who liked the walks.
"Toby enjoyed it but I didn't feel it improved the quality of his life," she said.
So she has resumed her couch potato ways, and Toby and her other cats get their exercise chasing the toy wand she waves as she watches TV or reads a book.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Pres
- Created on 13 September 2012
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Retired boxing champion Muhammad Ali is coming to Philadelphia to receive the Liberty Medal.
The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. It comes with a $100,000 cash prize.
Ali will be awarded the medal on Thursday at a ceremony at the National Constitution Center.
Ceremony officials say the 70-year-old Ali has built a legacy as a "tireless humanitarian and philanthropist." They call him a fighter for religious and civil rights, and an ambassador for peace and justice worldwide.
Previous medal recipients include rock singer and human rights activist Bono, former South African President Nelson Mandela and former President Jimmy Carter. Six winners later received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
- Created on 11 September 2012
If you're throwing a baby shower for a relative or friend, creating a suitably festive atmosphere is part of the fun.
Some people go all out by hiring an event planner, while others go more simply, taking the do-it-yourself route.
Whether you're nurturing an elaborate party plan or just want a little inspiration to get started, the Internet opens the nursery door to a wide range of ideas from baby shower experts. Here are a few with their favorites:
Maureen Anders and Adria Ruff, who run the Anders/Ruff event planning company in Charlotte, N.C., recently went with a color scheme of aqua, mint, lemon and lime for a gender-neutral shower. Mint and orange, gray and yellow, and aqua and coral are also on trend, Anders says, and even black and yellow ‚Äî for a "baby to bee" theme.
"'Gender reveal' showers are really popular," she says. The guests don't know if it's a boy or a girl till the mom-to-be cuts the cake and reveals a pink or blue interior. Even the future mom can be in on the surprise; party planners can have the ob-gyn contact the cake baker with the information.
Book showers are another hot trend: Guests bring a children's book to help build the new baby's library. Party planners A Good Affair, in Newport Beach, Calif., created a "Peter Rabbit" and "Pat the Bunny" theme at one recent baby shower, in Anaheim, Calif., with vintage rabbit books as decor.
On the pregnancy website The Bump, Allison Micarelli-Sokoloff suggests a "Goodnight, Moon" theme, with dark blue and white polka dots and hanging silver foil stars. Blue lemonade with star shaped fruit, a round cake with dark blue icing and white dots, and starry sugar cookies as favors round out the party elements. For an activity, she suggests gathering each of the poem's items: mittens, a toy house, etc. and having each guest list them in the order they appear in the story.
For their gender-neutral party, Anders/Ruff used colorful yet inexpensive yarn to make decorative pompoms, gift ties, even flowers. They dipped marshmallows in colored chocolate and candy pearls to make table displays, and served tinted macarons and paper-cone popcorn.
Designer and party planner Sunny Duran got inventive for a twins baby shower in Ramstein, Germany: Inspired by Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat," she decorated with book images and typography, and served green egg salad and goldfish in a bowl.
"I wanted everything to have a very playful feel. My favorite part of the book is when Thing One and Thing Two run through the hall with kites," she says, so she ran kite banners around the space and used the motif on labels. The Cat's red-and-white top hat became the party cake.
More tips for a successful baby shower:
‚Äî Research a theme. Websites like Hostess with the Mostess, Catch my Party and Any Given Party have dozens of detailed ideas.
‚Äî Don't try to do everything yourself. Farm out the sweets-making to bake-savvy friends. Printables are a great way to coordinate all the elements of your theme, with banners and tags. For around $10, you can download artwork from one of Etsy.com's talented designers, and print out as many pieces as you need.
‚Äî Choose a favor that's unexpected and useful. Anders and Ruff made tiny pickles and packed them in recycled baby food jars with a cute label. There were also color-coordinated candies in spice jars. A food gift's always appreciated, and will be remembered longer than a cheap tchotchke.
‚Äî Save money by buying latex balloons instead of pricier Mylar ones. And with food costs averaging about 40 percent of many shower budgets, opt for a DIY cupcake bar instead of a big cake, and offer finger sandwiches, cheese and fruit instead of fancier fare.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.