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Cursive writing hasn’t been part of curriculum for years, Wichita school officials say

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, at 9:50 p.m.

As the Kansas Board of Education prepares to consider potential guidelines for the teaching of cursive writing, Wichita school officials say the skill is no longer part of the district’s curriculum.

“We think communication is critical, but we do not have a curriculum designed to teach cursive writing,” said Denise Seguine, chief academic officer for Wichita schools.

“We focus on the writing process, and legibility is part of that. … But we do not advocate for a particular type of letter formation.”

Last month, the state school board discussed cursive writing after several board members asked for information on whether and how handwriting is taught in Kansas schools.

On Wednesday, board members will hear recommendations from state education officials on whether the state should establish guidelines for teaching cursive.

Just before last month’s discussion, Tom Foster, director of research and evaluation for the Kansas Department of Education, presented findings of an informal survey which he said showed a majority of Kansas districts still teach cursive and consider it an important skill.

His presentation didn’t note, however, that two of the state’s largest school districts – Wichita and Kansas City – were among those that do not teach cursive at all.

Seguine, the Wichita administrator, said some Wichita students continue to learn and practice cursive, but it hasn’t been part of the district’s elementary curriculum or teacher pacing guides for “several years.”

It was dropped because of an increased use of technology, she said, and an increased focus on six traits of writing that are part of local and national standards: ideas and content, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency and conventions.

“We do teach letter formation at the early grades and we support that all the way through with the six traits,” Seguine said. “It’s important that (students) are able to form letters and do it in a way that they don’t have to think about it.”

About two-thirds of Kansas school districts responded to Foster’s six-question survey asking whether and how they teach cursive handwriting.

Of those that responded, 90 percent said they teach cursive. Most said they teach it in third grade and spend an average of five to 15 minutes a day on handwriting lessons.

Most suburban districts near Wichita continue to teach cursive to all students.

Charlene Laramore, assistant superintendent for curriculum for Derby schools, said Derby adopted the popular “Handwriting Without Tears” curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade.

Teachers “spend time daily or several times each week, depending on the grade level,” Laramore said in an e-mail. Students who need it get additional practice, she said.

In Andover, traditional block-letter print is taught through second grade and cursive in grades three through five.

In Maize, teachers introduce cursive in third grade using the Zaner-Bloser curriculum. “There are no required number of minutes for handwriting instruction, but there is an expectation that it will be taught,” said Karen Duling, director of elementary education.

Annette Singletary, spokeswoman for the Goddard district, said Goddard schools teach cursive daily in third and fourth grades, for about 10 to 15 minutes per day. “Students should be proficient with cursive by the end of fourth grade,” she said.

Currently the state does not set standards for handwriting or require that it be taught in Kansas classrooms.

At their meeting last month, several state board members expressed concern about waning cursive skills – noting some teens and young adults don’t recognize cursive enough to read it – and directed officials to return this week with recommendations on whether the state should establish guidelines.

One concern raised by cursive-writing advocates is that generations who don’t learn cursive might be unable to read historical documents written in script. Others note new anti-fraud measures on some college entrance exams, such as the ACT, that require students to write several sentences by hand.

Seguine said some Wichita schools and teachers continue to teach cursive. Traditional magnet elementary schools, for example, mention in their promotional materials that they emphasize and practice handwriting.

But “if a teacher chooses to teach it and a principal approves it, that has to be in addition to the other things that are in the pacing guide,” Seguine said.

“We haven’t said, ‘Oh, absolutely not’ or gone in like the Gestapo and said you can’t do that,” she said. “But it’s not critical in terms of all the things we have to teach and what we’re held accountable for.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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