Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kansas to adopt standards for cursive writing

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

The art of cursive handwriting may be losing stature in the digital age, but the Kansas State Board of Education says it still has a place in public schools.

The board agreed unanimously Wednesday to adopt a policy statement encouraging schools to continue teaching cursive writing, also known as "joined italics" by some educators. But it split 8-2 in favor of adopting formal curriculum standards to direct classroom teachers on what is expected.

Those standards, however, will not result in schools having to give standardized tests in the subject, as they do in other academic subjects.

After a discussion on the subject last month, the board directed staff at the Department of Education to draft a policy statement to be sent out to schools.

The staff came back this month with three options: one recommending that instructional time could be put to better use in other areas; another only stressing the need to learn cursive for social functions such as a signature or reading handwritten documents; and a third emphasizing the importance of handwriting in cognitive development, as well as daily life.

The board agreed unanimously on the strongest language.

"The Kansas State Board of Education believes that cursive handwriting as a student skill still holds an important place in the instructional practice of every school's curriculum," the policy statement reads. "Research supports the role that handwriting instruction plays in the cognitive development of children, and this activity is even more important in an increasingly digital environment. The Board strongly encourages educators to ensure that all students can write legibly in cursive or joined italics and comprehend text written in this manner."

At the urging of board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, the board also agreed to add language encouraging teachers to incorporate handwriting into other academic subjects.

When it came to adopting formal curriculum standards, though, the board was less united.

"I don't think we need standards," said board member Sue Storm, an Overland Park Democrat. "You and I all write cursive. We didn't have any standards back in the (1950s) when I went to school. ... I don't think we need (staff) to write standards at this point. People know that we recommend cursive writing be taught. If the school districts don't do it and parents are concerned enough about it, it'll happen. You all have enough on your plate already."

Board member Jana Shaver, an Independence Republican, said she preferred that the state simply recommend a set of "best practices" to guide educators in teaching cursive.

But Tom Foster, director of research and evaluation for the department, said developing formal standards would not be difficult because they would mainly apply only to a few grades in elementary school.

He also said there are several model standards already developed that the state could adapt for use in Kansas.

But board chairman David Dennis, a Wichita Republican, said he supported adopting formal standards.

"If you don't have some kind of document or standard or something for somebody to look at, we don't know where we're going," he said. "I think standards are important, whether or not they're mandatory standards. At least if you have standards and they say at the kindergarten level you need to be able to do this, and then first grade, second grade and so on ... best practices are something that kind of get put on the website and disappear into the ozone."