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Elementary Writing Programs Demonstrate Different Strengths in Common Core, Best Practices Report

The Common Core State Standards for writing have raised expectations of what students should be able to accomplish in the elementary grades. At the same time, research has demonstrated that in order for writing instruction to be truly effective, certain elements must be present. IESD (Interactive Educational Systems Design Inc.), a leading research organization for education, has published a new white paper, “Elementary Writing Programs: How They Match the Research and the Common Core,” examining how six leading elementary writing programs measure up to the requirements of the Common Core standards and research-based best practices.

Based on an analysis of the Common Core writing standards and a review of recent research related to successful writing instruction, IESD developed a set of 17 evaluation categories for reviewing the following elementary writing programs at grades 2 and 5:

  • CraftPlus (Maupin House)
  • Essential Guide to Writing (Empowering Writers)
  • Strategies for Writers (Zaner-Bloser)
  • Traits Writing (Scholastic)
  • Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Firsthand/Heinemann)
  • WriteSteps (WriteSteps)

The categories were divided into three main sections: Common Core Writing Standards and Related Instructional Features, Other Aspects of Writing Curriculum and Instruction, and Professional Development. Other Aspects of Writing Curriculum and Instruction included consideration of grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction; writing strategies; Writer’s Workshop model; process writing approach; 6 Traits/6+1 Traits model; concise daily lesson plans; web-based resources; multimedia resources for interactive whiteboards; and formative assessment.

“We determined which programs fully met, partially met, or did not meet the criteria for each evaluation category,” said Jay Sivin-Kachala, executive vice president of IESD. “All six programs fully met criteria in some areas and partially met criteria in one or more areas, and three of the programs did not meet the criteria for some evaluation categories. Only one program, WriteSteps, fully met the criteria for 16 of the 17 evaluation categories and partially met the criteria for the last category, classroom demonstration videos as a form of professional development.”

In the “Common Core Writing Standards and Related Instructional Features” section, WriteSteps was the only program that fully addressed all 10 Common Core writing standards. Strategies for Writers, Units of Study, and WriteSteps were the only programs that fully addressed all three Common Core text types (argument writing, informative/explanatory writing and narratives). These three programs also provided rubrics to guide teachers and students about the text types.

Essential Guide to Writing and WriteSteps were the only two programs that fully addressed the Common Core requirements for gathering, assessing and integrating information.

In the “Other Aspects of Writing Curriculum” section, Strategies for Writers and WriteSteps were the only two programs that fully met the criteria for all the evaluation categories. Strategies for Writers, Traits Writing, and WriteSteps were the only programs to fully employ a 6 traits/6+1 traits model.

For an easy, at-a-glance review of the top-level evaluation results, “Elementary Writing Programs” includes a table summarizing the sections, categories and how well each program met the evaluation criteria. The white paper also provides brief explanations of the research behind the different evaluation categories, cross-comparisons of the results and appendices containing detailed results of the analysis by grade level. The paper can be found at:

About IESD

Interactive Educational Systems Design (IESD) Inc. provides a variety of services related to research and evaluation, marketing, and development of educational technology, multimedia products, websites, and print-based instructional programs. IESD was founded in 1984 and is currently led by Ellen Bialo and Jay Sivin-Kachala. IESD's clients include publishers of technology-based and print-based instructional products, technology hardware manufacturers, non-profit institutions, government agencies, and school districts.

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