January 14, 2002
Penmanship standards are needed
Although the news has been full of educational reform not a word has been written about penmanship standards. We need new penmanship standards to go along with all of our other new national educational standards. There is no state or national standard for the introduction of penmanship into the elementary grades, nor is there agreement on when handwriting should be taught and which handwriting program should be taught. The result of this lack of cohesiveness is that each school district increasingly has its own handwriting system and schedule of introduction, apart from any other district.
There is currently no means of holding any school district accountable for its handwriting system at all. Indeed, if we have decided that penmanship "doesn't count," as evidenced by our lack of performance standards, then the message we send to each school district is that penmanship isn't important. If it isn't important, then why teach it? That's where we are headed with our silence on this subject. Just think what it would be like to wake up tomorrow and have nobody under 25 able to read or write our handwriting.
This scenario has already unfolded in at least one school district already. Northshore School District abandoned the "old" contemporary cursive writing system back in 1985 for a new italicized printing system called Duvall handwriting. As a result of this policy, no student in the Northshore School District has been taught to read or write contemporary cursive writing since 1985. Even Northshore's connection of printed letters (which they call cursive) doesn't happen until 4th grade, which is a whole year later than most other districts in the state and nation.
We need a new national and/or a state performance standard for penmanship so that these decisions aren't left to the whims of the individual school districts. We need to decide what should be taught, when it should be taught, and how to make sure it is taught as a nation. We need penmanship testing, but more importantly, we need accountability. As this is an increasingly mobile society, we need to make sure that the students transferring to and from the various school districts are all on the same page with penmanship, just like we are trying to do as a nation with math and reading.
Please join with me in asking Dr. Terry Bergeson, the superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, to add penmanship to the list of subjects with statewide performance standards.
Kathy Chiles, via e-mail