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Writing scores dip for eighth-graders

POSTED: April 7, 2014 7:30 p.m.

Reflecting the results across the region and state, Effingham County’s scores declined slightly this year from last year on Georgia’s Eighth-Grade Writing Assessment.

The exception was Effingham County Middle School, which improved its score for the third straight year.

Judith Shuman, the Effingham County School System’s student and professional learning coordinator, presented the 2014 scores at Wednesday’s school board meeting. The test is given each January to assess students’ writing skills as they complete middle school.

Among the 859 Effingham County eighth-graders tested this year, 77 percent met the standard for the test and 3 percent exceeded it. The total of 80 percent of students meeting or exceeding the standard was a dip of one percentage point from last year.

Effingham matched the 80 percent of students statewide meeting or exceeding, which was a 2 percentage point drop from a year ago. The total for the First District Regional Education Service Agency (RESA), which serves Effingham and 17 other local school systems, fell from 76 percent to 73.

Among Effingham County’s three middle schools, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the standard declined from 82 to 81 at Ebenezer Middle School and from 82 to 79 at South Effingham Middle. Effingham County Middle improved by one percentage point, to 78 percent meeting or exceeding.

The bigger picture at ECMS, though, is its 19 percentage point improvement over the last three years. In 2011, only 59 percent of the school’s eighth-graders met the writing assessment standard, and none exceeded it.

“I want to celebrate the success of that school as they continue to close that achievement gap,” Shuman said. “During a year in which the local First District and the state percentages of students achieving in the meets or exceeds standard declined, ECMS not only held their own, but gained.”

Students are given 100 minutes to write their essays. This year’s assignment was to write a letter to a school cafeteria manager offering suggestions on menu choices teenagers will eat, thereby reducing lunchroom waste.

“I’m somewhat surprised that statewide performance was not better on this particular topic,” Shuman said, “because it seems to be something that students always have an opinion about.”

Shuman could not pinpoint a reason why the district, region and state results all declined, other than it simply being the product of human scoring. Two judges read a student’s essay and, if they don’t agree on a score, a third person rates the essay.

“So there’s a system in place for checks and balances there,” she said. “But I can’t help but think it has something to do with the scoring process, because that was as kid-friendly a topic as I’ve ever seen.”

The Effingham County School System has taken steps to improve students’ writing, including implementing Write to Learn in its middle schools last year and high schools this year. The computer program enables students to practice writing and receive immediate feedback.

Also, the school district contracted with Shelly Smith, a retired teacher and former First District RESA director, to consult with the county’s high school English-language arts teachers on curriculum and instruction. Lyn Long, a gifted/talented teacher at Effingham County and South Effingham middle schools, works on literacy strategies with teachers in all three middle schools.

“We continue to make writing a focus,” Shuman said.

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