Cursive writing included as part of new standards

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona will require public schools to teach cursive handwriting as one of a number of new education standards approved by the state Board of Education.

Highlights of new standards approved by the state Board of Education

— Mastery of cursive handwriting by fifth grade

— Early elementary requirement of lessons on time and money

— Foundational writing skills strand for kindergarten through third grade to include knowing how to spell most frequently used words

— Standards for high school math courses that are not required for graduation

— Changes were made to 48 percent of the Common Core standards on language arts and 40 percent of math standards

— Remove a requirement that 70 percent of high school reading material be informational and 30 percent be literary. Educators argued that requirement was “arbitrary and inappropriate.”

The move amends the state’s current standards, which are based on federal guidelines known as the Common Core. Common Core has become a politicized topic and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas campaigned on a promise to replace it.

“We now have new standards that have been worked on by Arizona teachers, parents and been vetted by anti-Common Core experts,” said Douglas.

Cursive handwriting has proved one of the more controversial elementary requirements as some educators see it as an archaic practice that does not meld with current technology, and others who suggest it is the basis of the English language and should be taught and mastered in elementary grades.

State Board of Education Vice President Tim Carter said cursive has been adopted as a required educational standard, but local districts have been given considerable flexibility with instruction. In addition, the Yavapai County Schools superintendent said there is no state assessment attached to the measure.

“I think it was a good compromise,” Carter said of the adoption that he believes merges the arguments of both the younger and older generations of educators.

In the sessions where teachers, parents and others were asked about cursive writing, Carter said he heard valid arguments for and against introducing it as a required skill. The way this was approved, Carter said, he believes “everyone will be able to live with it.”

Basis Prescott Head of School Becky Ratliff favors the addition, noting that in their early elementary years it is now offered by their occupational therapists as a supplemental lesson in first through fourth grades.

She said she will confer with the educational experts on when it might be most appropriate to incorporate cursive into the curriculum, but she said her instinct would be to start students at a young age and then allow them to build on that foundation.

The state Board of Education requires cursive be taught no later than fifth grade, but allows local districts to determine what years make the most sense and fit best into the students’ learning cycle. Third grade was argued as a key year by some, but some teachers preferred starting later because third grade is the first year that students are assessed on their reading skills.

Even in the age of technology, Ratliff said a students’ ability to write legibly, and quickly, is still important, so cursive instruction has value that will translate to college assignments.

“I think handwriting is slowly becoming endangered because of technology,” Ratliff said.

Prescott Unified Schools District Superintendent Joe Howard said he prefer students become proficient in 21st century technology because the time is nearing when “kids will be cranking (written information) out on their telephones.”

He said he sees cursive writing similar to teaching Latin; both have roots in the history of language and the written word but are no longer essential skills to succeed in today’s world.

“Cursive has its place, and advocates don’t want it to become a lost art,” Howard said. “Our focus is on technology right now, and putting those tools in kids’ hands.”

In addition to requiring students to have mastered cursive by the fifth grade, the revisions also require lessons about time and money in early grades. They also add a “foundational writing skills strand” for kindergarten through third grade that will have the students learn how to spell the most frequently used words.

The changes also set standards for high-school-level math courses that are not required for graduation.

— Staff writer Nanci Hutson contributed to this story.