ATHENS - Educators say that timeworn tradition of learning to write in cursive may soon disappear from most children's school lesson plans.
Cursive isn't listed anywhere in the new curriculum standards Georgia teachers may start using next school year, although those standards could be changed.
But cursive, once a sometimes painful part of the school day for most third- and fourth-grade students, is disappearing in some classrooms. Teachers don't spend as much time on the craft as they once did. Many students prefer computers or text messages to handwriting.
Clarke Middle School English teacher Ellen Jackson said that cursive is disappearing from her students' writing lately. When they turn in their assignments, many prefer to use printed block letters rather than the broad strokes that characterize cursive.
"A lot of my students over the years have stopped being able to read cursive writing, so when I write on the white board, I have to make sure to write in print because they can't read it," said Jackson, who has taught English for 20 years.
The state requires teaching cursive starting in the third grade, and students are expected to be able to read and write legibly in cursive by the time they finish fourth grade.
But many teachers say they don't have as much time to spend on cursive handwriting skills, and none of the standardized tests given to elementary students measures how well they can write in cursive.
"You try to squeeze handwriting in anywhere you can," said Lisa Lyles, who teaches third grade at Gaines Elementary School. "Unfortunately, the state has so many other standards that something like handwriting has gotten to the point where we don't have enough time in the day."
Cursive isn't a required standard for students in the new Common Core State Standards for English, whichGeorgia and 40 other states adopted last summer. Matt Cordoza, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, said teachers and administrators from across the state will meet in March to decide whether to amend the standards and retain cursive writing.
Proponents say cursive helps students learn how to read and communicate.
At Athens Montessori School, students learn cursive before they learn how to print in block letters.
"We start at age 4, 4 1/2," said the school's director, Warren McPherson. "If they stay, by the time they move up through elementary school, they will have pretty well-mastered cursive."
Computers have forced some students to learn to type at a time they would have been learning to write cursive.
But Kathleen Wright, a national product manager for Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of education writing materials, says more than 80 percent of written work in classrooms is still done by hand.
"Students need to become fluent in writing, and be able to write fast and automatic," Wright said. "What I'm hearing is these kids are missing the practice they need in handwriting instruction between second grade and middle school and their skills decline."