In the first assessment of how well students write using computers, national scores released Friday show that only about one-quarter of U.S. students are proficient in writing.
The test, sometimes called the Nation's Report Card, sampled students in grades 8 and 12 across the country. Specific results for states and school districts participating were not released.
Officials of the National Assessment of Educational Progress said results of the tests, administered in 2011, were not comparable to previous years because of the changed format, scope and scale.
But the percentage of eighth-grade students rated as proficient declined significantly. In 2007, the last time the writing test was administered, 35 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or above, compared with 27 percent in 2011. Still, the proportion of 12th-graders proficient and above rose slightly, from 25 percent to 27 percent.
The new tests are aimed to see how well students persuade, explain or convey an experience. In the 2011 test, each student was randomly assigned to respond to two of 22 writing assignments.
NAEP moved from the traditional handwritten tests to computers because of the significant role they play in writing and the prevalence of computers in students' lives. For the test, NAEP provided computers with word-processing tools.
On the 300-point scale, eighth-grade girls as a group outscored their male peers, 160 points vs. 140 points. But the gap among 12th-graders was narrower, with girls scoring 157 vs. boys' 143.
The computer test let administrators track how often students used technology tools, finding that those who consult a thesaurus and use spell check scored higher than those who didn't.