School spell-check cop-out

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By Erika Weisensee, Oregon Writer

I usually avoid controversy. I like to write about inspiring, humorous, heart-warming topics. Forgive me. . .I just can’t help myself right now because I’m a writer and a writing instructor, and I need to chime in on a topic making news in Oregon this week: Spelling!

In case you haven’t heard, the Oregon Department of Education recently made a controversial decision to allow students to use spell check when taking the agency’s online writing assessment. ODE staff met with school district representatives and decided after “in-depth discussion” to make this change to its online writing assessment. The change will impact grades 7 to 12.

Wow! Seems to me there is real value in teaching, learning and being accountable for good spelling without depending on spelling software. Seems to me allowing the use of spell check on a writing test de-emphasizes the importance of knowing how to spell, which is integral to the development of fluid writing and editing skills.

Being a good writer requires many skills that develop with practice. These skills include the ability to organize material, the ability to construct a sound argument and support it with evidence, having a command of grammar, knowing how parts of sentences work together, the ability to put words together in an original way, and the ability to edit one’s work for clarity, conciseness, and yes, correct spelling. Good spelling is an essential layer of strong writing.

Allowing the use of spell check on a writing test seems so counter-productive to what should be a goal of writing instructors at every level: Encouraging the practice and knowledge of spelling without reliance on a computer program that is by nature a flawed editor.