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Schools concerned about test scores

POSTED: April 6, 2009 6:24 p.m.

The percentage of eighth grade students meeting and exceeding the standards on the writing assessment has declined systemwide, Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff told members of the Effingham County Board of Education.

“Generally when I’m here, we usually, as some folks say, like to crow about performance,” Arnsdorff said. “But I’ll be frank and say at this juncture our scores are not moving in our desired direction. That has required us to begin to put in some plans to have those scores move in a way which we would all like to see them.”

Georgia law requires students in grades three, five, eight and 11 take a writing assessment.

Arnsdorff told the board that Ebenezer Middle School had a drop of 11 percent, Effingham County Middle School dropped 12 percent and South Effingham Middle school decreased 2 percent in the students who met or exceeded standards. The system as a whole saw a reduction of 8 percent.

He said the system has work to do in helping students with disabilities meet standards. Another goal is to increase achievement of students currently meeting standards so they will exceed the standards.

Arnsdorff said Dr. Lynn Johnson, assistant curriculum coordinator, has been working to standardize the writing curriculum across the system.

“What they have begun implementing was the incorporation of two programs at our elementary schools,” he said. “One is something called thinking maps, and that began in spring 2008, basically as an organizational strategy that’s taught the students to help them categorize and group their ideas. It begins as early as kindergarten and allows students to show teachers their thought processes.”

He said in primary grades students can draw the thought process, and then in upper elementary grades, they begin to map out the thought process.

Each school sent one teacher for eight days of training on the system.

The schools also incorporated a program called “Write From the Beginning,” which was selected because of its correlation to the Georgia Performance Standards. Schools have been working on implementing the Write from the Beginning program, coupled with thinking maps, since the beginning of this school year.

Arnsdorff said there are some schools that will still be training on the Write from the Beginning program through the beginning of next school year, but all schools should be fully implementing the program in the next year. The program is for kindergarten through fifth grade.

Because of what administrators believed needed to be addressed with eighth graders taking the writing tests, Dr. Johnson and Judith Shuman have developed a program of implementing a systematic writing program for middle grades called Write for the Future.

Arnsdorff said teachers will begin training in this program during the summer, and the training and implementation will first take place with language arts teachers. It will later be addressed with the whole faculty.

“Writing doesn’t just stop once you leave your English language arts class,” he said. “For the first time, we’re going to have a comprehensive improvement plan in place for working with writing instruction.

“We feel that the test scores, particularly here, signal that we need to provide our teachers more instructional support, more professional development and a structured program to couple our current program of instruction in English language arts to something that we believe has had some history in our elementary schools.”

“The 11th grade writing assessment is a high stakes writing assessment required for graduation from our high schools,” Arnsdorff said. “Grades three, five and eight are to help inform instruction to prepare students for that assessment.”

Students are given 100 minutes in one sitting to write an essay from a prompt given to them. The prompt is either expository or persuasive.

Arnsdorff said school improvement plans with direction from the central office will include how the school is going to address writing instruction.

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