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The Developmental Writing Scale: A New Progress Monitoring Tool for Beginning Writers

Sturm, Janet M.; Cali, Kathleen; Nelson, Nickola W.; Staskowski, Maureen

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0b013e318272159e
TLD Special Issue: Access to Writing for Students with Diverse Disabilities

Developing writers make qualitative changes in their written products as they progress from scribbling and drawing to conventional, paragraph level writing. As yet, a comprehensive measurement tool does not exist that captures the linguistic and communicative changes (not just emergent spelling) in the early stages of this progression. The Developmental Writing Scale (DWS) for beginning writers was developed as a tool that can capture evidence of refined changes in growth over time. This measure is a 14-point ordinal scale that defines qualitative advances in levels of a learning progression for beginning writing from scribbling to cohesive (linguistically connected) and coherent (on an identifiable topic) paragraph-level writing. The measure can be used with young typically developing children and children with disabilities at all ages who are functioning at beginning levels of writing. Limitations of current writing measures, in contrast to the DWS, are described. The development of the DWS and techniques for using the measure are described with regard to construct and content validity. Preliminary research on reliability of DWS scoring and validity for 5 purposes support usefulness of the DWS for educational and research purposes, including monitoring the progress of beginning writers with significant disabilities.

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Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan (Dr Sturm); University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Ms Cali); Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan (Dr Nelson); and Macomb Intermediate School District, Clinton Township, Michigan (Dr Staskowski).

Corresponding Author: Janet M. Sturm, PhD, Central Michigan University, 2167 Health Professions Building, Mount Pleasant, MI 48859 (

Portions of the Developmental Writing Scale were developed when the first author, as PI, was receiving support from NIH Grant R41HD059238-01 to Don Johnston, Inc. for development of software to support early writing development. The authors would like to thank the many teachers, undergraduate, and graduate students for their ongoing support during the development of the Developmental Writing Scale.

The authors disclose that they may receive royalties in the future for products based on the work described in this article.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins