Cover: Writing Instruction in U.S. Classrooms

Writing Instruction in U.S. Classrooms

Diverging Perspectives for Teachers Across Content Areas

Published May 14, 2020

by William R. Johnston

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Research Questions

  1. Do secondary teachers think that writing skills are necessary for college and career success?
  2. Do secondary teachers feel that they know what good writing instruction looks like?
  3. Do secondary teachers receive effective training and support for implementing writing instruction?
  4. Do secondary teachers feel that they can assess improvement in their students' writing?
  5. Do secondary teachers have access to high-quality instructional materials to teach writing?

Writing is a fundamental skill that is essential for student learning and academic success and career opportunities. Writing also has been found to be a key process that supports the development of numerous academic skills such as reading comprehension, and writing practices have been linked to improvements in content area knowledge across a range of academic disciplines such as math, science, and social studies. However, standardized assessment results suggest persistently low levels of writing ability, with only a quarter of students in the 8th and 12th grades scoring proficient or above on the most recent writing test administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. New results from the RAND Corporation's American Educator Panels (AEP) expand on these findings. The AEP asked a nationally representative sample of 3,744 secondary teachers about their preparedness to teach and assess writing skills and their levels of support in the classroom.

Key Findings

English language arts teachers most confident about their preparation and ability to teach writing

  • Virtually all teachers believe that writing is important for students' academic and career success.
  • English language arts (ELA) teachers were more likely than non-ELA teachers to agree that they received effective ELA training, could deliver effective ELA instruction, could assess students' ELA skills, knew what good writing instruction looked like, and had access to high-quality instructional materials.
  • Non-ELA teachers were least confident about their training to teach ELA and their access to high-quality instructional materials.


  • District, state, and school leaders should focus on improving all teachers' effectiveness as teachers of writing.
  • Policymakers could learn more from teachers about specific strengths and weaknesses related to writing instruction activities and encourage access to preservice and inservice training materials as well as high-quality writing instructional materials for writing.
  • School leaders should encourage collaboration between teachers of different subject areas so that ELA teachers can support their colleagues' use of writing strategies.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Overdeck Family Foundation.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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