New state tests but same emphasis on spelling for Ohio and Kentucky students

While many aspects of education have been shaken up and reordered by technology and new ways of measuring success, exacting spelling remains a bulwark of learning.

As the best young spellers in the country gather in Washington for the Scripps National Spelling Bee , WCPO checked in with state educators and test makers in Ohio and Kentucky to see whether the new Common Core standards have affected the emphasis on spelling for better or worse. Scripps is the company that owns WCPO.

Ohio is rolling out new standardized tests that comply with common core standards next school year. The state adopted the Common Core State Standards i n English language arts and mathematics in 2010 and require that schools teach to those standards by fall.

New tests will be administered to third- through 11th-graders by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

"Spelling's role is similar to what it was in previous assessments. It's part of the scoring, but it's in the context of the writing," said David Connerty-Marin, PARCC communications director in Washington. "There are no drill questions on spelling, but the scoring includes conventional spelling, grammar, etc., as well as reading comprehension. It's part of a larger writing component, and we assess writing at every grade level."

If anything, Common Core's emphasis on written responses to questions across all subjects could strengthen the role of spelling in assessments. A math whiz who might have gotten away with simply solving an equation now has to explain in words how she reached her answer.

"Writing is going to be tested at every grade, and there may be increased focus on that, which includes the spelling piece. It happens to fit in very nicely with Common Core," Connerty-Marin said.

John Charlton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said spelling fits under a larger umbrella of reading and comprehension.

"Spelling is assessed  through a student’s written responses and is scored as part of Writing: Language and Conventions on the scoring rubric," he said.

Karen Kidwell, director of the Kentucky Department of Education's division of program standards, said the commonwealth also doesn't drill on spelling on its own. But spelling is part of a larger emphasis on being able to communicate effectively.

Kentucky administers an annual On-Demand Writing test to its students in grades five, six, eight, 10 and 11. Along with writing with a consistent focus on a particular audience, developing ideas and organizing a variety of sentence lengths and structures, top scorers must use "correct grammar, usage, and mechanics (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization) to communicate effectively and clarify the writing."

"It's one thing to have a multiple choice question and pick out the correct spelling. To me the more authentic approach evaluates whether kids can communicate and put all aspects of writing together at once," she said.

She said the state leaves the specifics of how to ensure students can spell up to local districts.

"Our standards don't explicitly call for spelling, but they don't call for using pencils and papers or computers, either," she said. "When you think about a student's ability to communicate in writing, there's a certain proficiency that either impedes or permits more effective communication."

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