We are disappointed and disconcerted by a recent report that students in the United States did not fare well on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, perhaps best known as the Nation's Report Card.

The test, which measures a student's ability to communicate effectively by writing, was taken by 24,100 eighth-graders and 28,100 12th-graders across the country, in both public and private schools.

According to testing officials, only one-quarter of the students wrote at or above a proficient level, which means they demonstrated solid academic performance in writing.

At a time when many teenaged students consider texting their primary means of writing -- LOL -- the competition for skilled, literate workers has never been more fierce in a global marketplace.

"Ultimately, the goal is to have all students performing at or above the proficient level," said Jack Buckley, a National Center for Educational Statistics commissioner.

We understand this is an ambitious goal. Yet it is a goal America urgently needs to meet in every community and every classroom.

That includes schools in the Greater New Milford area, throughout Connecticut and across the nation.

Without students who can articulate ideas clearly and concisely in writing, the United States will not be able to compete at home or abroad.

The ability to communicate in writing -- whether it is targeting a business proposal, filing a legal brief or updating a patient's chart -- is a critical skill, one listed at or near the top of most job descriptions.

It is important to understand this goal is not just about economic security. It is also about the obligation the country has to its children -- to teach them and prepare them to become contributing members of society.

The first step in this process is to encourage students to write more -- and earlier -- in school.

This will help students develop the proficiency they need to succeed as a child in the classroom and an adult in the real world, where good writing is essential.