The write stuff

Legislators seek to require Idaho students to learn cursive

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Kyla Zichko, 9, works on a story-writing assignment Thursday in class at Mullan Trail Elementary in Post Falls.

COEUR d'ALENE - Coeur d'Alene teacher David Groth recalls a time, less than a decade ago, when kids showed up for fifth grade able to read and write cursive, with many of them using longhand regularly.

"Learning it was a real rite of passage," said Groth, a 34-year educator now teaching fifth grade at Sorensen Magnet School of Arts and Humanities in Coeur d'Alene. "Kids were excited about it."

Those days are gone. This year, Groth has one girl in his class who uses the looping, curving writing form exclusively. He said he no longer uses cursive when he writes instructions or lessons on the board in front of his classroom.

"I don't do it that way anymore because inevitably, I'd have three or four kids who couldn't read it," he said.

It's a time of transition, Groth said, but cursive is still "part of our world."

That's one of the reasons an Idaho Falls lawmaker says he's waging a campaign to ensure that longhand writing doesn't get short shrift in the state's public schools. Republican Rep. Linden Bateman's call for a returned emphasis on cursive is picking up steam among state legislators.

This week, members of the House Education Committee unanimously passed a resolution brought forward by Bateman, a retired educator. The measure calls for the Idaho State Board of Education to create a rule requiring that cursive writing be taught to Idaho students. The resolution will now go before the full House.

"If we do not teach cursive, the day will come when people will not be able to read cursive," Bateman said last month when he introduced the measure to the chamber's education committee. "Family history study will suffer, genealogical research will suffer and historical research of all kinds will suffer."

In making his case for cursive, Bateman also cites studies indicating that learning longhand improves fine motor skills and language comprehension.

The call for cursive comes as Idaho's schools prepare to fully transition to the new Idaho Core Standards, the state-level, localized version of the Common Core Standards. The Common Core initiative is a multi-state effort to align and raise educational standards in English language arts and math in kindergarten- to- 12th-grade. Idaho schools will be using the new core standards this fall.

"We have great respect for Rep. Bateman and the conversation he has started about cursive writing," said Idaho Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. "I think everyone has stopped at some point over the past few weeks and practiced their cursive writing, just to see how they do, which is a good thing."

The Common Core and the Idaho Core standards do not include any requirement to teach cursive in the state's elementary schools.

"While these new standards focus on what we believe is most essential for students to know and be able to do, we recognize they do not include everything that should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of the teacher in the classroom and local school district. This includes items previously in state standards, like cursive," McGrath said.

McGrath told The Press the new standards are fewer, clearer and higher and give teachers and local school districts the flexibility to decide how, or if, they will teach cursive at a certain grade level. But, they are still Idaho standards, she said, and can be added to.

"Rep. Bateman has made a good case for why cursive writing might still be necessary in our standards at the state level, not just at the local level," McGrath said. "For these reasons, Superintendent Luna has said that, as a member of the State Board of Education, he will make sure we follow through with the resolution if the Legislature passes it."

Matt Handelman, associate superintendent in the Coeur d'Alene School District, said that teaching cursive is still part of the district's third grade curriculum. As the district works to localize the new core standards, Handelman said they are rewriting the district's curriculum guidelines, and cursive is part of those conversations.

"The most important part of it is being able to read primary source documents, historical documents, even the letter from grandma," Handelman said. "We also have to pay attention to the desires of the community."

Cursive writing has traditional value to some people; others see it as an art form, he said.

The district is working to determine how much time to dedicate to teaching cursive, he said, while at the same time, balancing it against the many other things teachers have to focus on.

"I think we should spend some time on it, but not too much time," Handelman said. "There are other things that are more important like learning math facts, grammar skills, keyboarding and how to interact with your peers in a positive way."

Sorensen teacher Groth said that if teaching and learning cursive were to fall by the wayside completely, he doesn't think it will be a problem. People will adapt, he said, as they always have when modernization overtakes convention.

A less-than proficient reader confronted by an original cursive document, like the Declaration of Independence, will face a stumbling block, Groth said.

But for skilled readers, it will be easier.

"They'll be able to figure it out," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Shenoa Gosney, 9, prepares a draft of her story assignment on a sheet of paper marked with a highlighter to remind her to double space her lines.

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