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Three-fourths of the nation's school children demonstrated only partial mastery of the skills needed to write proficiently for their grade level, the Education Department reported today.

Testers asked 60,000 fourth-graders, eighth-graders and 12th-graders to write stories, essays, reports and persuasive pieces.

Only 23 percent of fourth-graders wrote at the proficient level or above, while 84 percent wrote at the basic level, and 16 percent were below the basic level.

For eighth-graders, 27 percent were at least proficient, 84 percent basic, and 16 percent basic.

For 12th-graders, 22 percent were proficient, 78 percent basic and 22 percent below basic.

In each grade group, 1 percent wrote at an advanced level.

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