The Effingham County School System’s commitment to improving student writing skills has paid off with higher scores in Georgia’s Fifth-Grade Writing Assessment.
Effingham County’s mean scale score of 216 exceeded the state average of 213 and was the highest among all 18 school districts in the First District Regional Educational Service Agency.
“Writing was an area of emphasis for us, and we are seeing improvements there,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “Probably three years or so ago, writing (performance) certainly was not where we wanted it to be; everything else was good, but that was something we needed to emphasize. We certainly want to continue that.”
In March, all fifth-graders statewide took the assessment, which assigns each student a topic for a narrative, informational or persuasive essay. The students have two hours to write their essays, which are then scored at the assessment center at the University of Georgia.
Twelve percent of Effingham fifth-graders exceeded the standard for this year’s test and 76 percent met the standard. The county’s 88 percent of students meeting/exceeding the standard was a 7-percent improvement from last year and well above the 80 percent statewide and 76 percent for First District RESA.
“We’re particularly proud of our fifth-grade teachers, our school leadership and the attention they have helped us give the writing assessment and our work on writing across the school district,” said Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff.
Arnsdorff pointed out that nearly all Effingham elementary schools raised their scores from last year, including Blandford Elementary’s “whopping” 18-percent improvement of students meeting and exceeding the test standard. Blandford reached 92 percent this year — 76 percent meeting the standard and 16 percent exceeding.
Sand Hill Elementary showed an even greater improvement in meets/exceeds standard scores — a 25-percent increase to 96 percent. Despite being a Title I school, Sand Hill had 83 percent of its students meet the standard and 13 percent exceed it.
Also raising their meets/exceeds percentages this year were Guyton (5 percent), Ebenezer (3 percent), Marlow (2 percent) and South Effingham (2 percent) Elementary Schools. Two elementary schools experienced a decline — Rincon, by 5 percent, and Springfield, by 4 percent.
To improve writing test scores, Effingham County established uniform methods for teachers to use in the classroom. The school system also has a designated literacy intervention specialist, Melodie Fulcher, who works closely with each elementary school.
Effingham County is also one of only a few school districts in the state chosen to participate in the Literacy Design Collaborative, an initiative through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop reading and writing skills across all academic subjects. Effingham County will begin implementing that common core this fall.
“We’re actually leading the state in providing training for this common core work that’s about to launch,” Arnsdorff said.
“With common core, kids are going to be writing more than ever,” Shearouse said. “They will be writing in social studies, in math, and they’re not used to doing that, so that should help their writing skills as well.”
CRCT scores improve
The school district also showed improvement in several areas of this year’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).
Arnsdorff reported that county fifth-graders either improved or remained at a high level in 37 of 40 subject areas (five subjects at each of the eight elementary schools). Only seven of 40 areas did not show improvement in third grade, and 13 areas did not show improvement among fourth-graders.
In all, of the 120 content areas of third-fifth grades at the eight elementary schools, nearly half (53) saw improvement from last year in the percentage of students either meeting or exceeding the test standard. Another 44 content areas remained at “already high performing” (90 percent or more of students meeting or exceeding), leaving only 23 areas showing no growth.
In fact, some areas that didn’t have much room to improve still did. For example, Rincon Elementary increased its meet/exceed percentage from 96 to 97 in third-grade reading, Blandford Elementary went from 97 percent to 99 in fifth-grade English, and South Effingham Elementary boosted a 99 percent in fifth-grade math to a perfect 100.
Arnsdorff described the middle school results as “even more impressive.” In sixth grade, nine of 15 subject areas showed improvement from last year, three remained “exceptionally high” and only three — math, science and social studies at Effingham Middle did not show improvement.
The results were even better in seventh and eighth grade, where all five content areas at all three middle schools showed improvement or remained at 90 percent or better in students meeting or exceeding the standard.
“I think we can be very pleased at their hard work,” Arsndorff said. “Middle schools were a little bit of a punching bag for a while. They took a lot of hard knocks for some of their achievement scores, but certainly we’ve seen as we review the trend data, our schools actually lead the state in performance.”
In the CRCT areas that need improvement, Arnsdorff said, “those are focus areas that the principals will look at the data — classroom data by teacher, across grade level — to see what gaps there may be in instruction or what other reasons may have impacted the performance in that particular content area.”
The statewide and RESA scores on the CRCT have not yet been released.