County lags in writing scores

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON - Robeson County students in the seventh and 10th grades scored the lowest in the region on the state writing test this year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.
Fourth-graders in the county had the second worst performance in the region, which includes Cumberland, Bladen, Hoke, Columbus and Scotland counties, according to results of the North Carolina Writing Assessments that were released Friday.
Only 18 percent of sophomores passed the mandatory test, 26.4 percent of seventh-graders and 25.3 of fourth-graders.
The seventh-grade test scores increased 2 percentage points from 2004. Fourth graders' test scores dropped slightly, and the sophomore scores fell 12 percentage points. The scores at each grade level were significantly below the state average. The state average at the fourth grade level was 49.3 percent; 46.7 percent in seventh grade; and 47.8 in 10th grade.
Superintendent Colin Armstrong was out of town and could not be reached. Assistant Superintendent Linda Emanuel said the administration will meet with principals to determine what went wrong.
“We know it's an issue,” Emanuel said. “We need to do a lot more training and modeling. We are taking steps to improve the situation next year.”
North Carolina has given year-end writing tests since the 1983-84 school year. Changes were made to the test three years to include grammar.
Emanuel said those changes, coupled with the fact that some students may have learned that the writing scores didn't affect the schools' ABCs status, may be to blame for the low scores. The writing results will be a part of the ABC's for the upcoming school year.
“Some may have known going into the test that it wasn't going to count,” Emanuel said. “That may have had an effect on their performance.”

Write stuff
Students are asked to respond in writing to a specific prompt. Students in grades fourth and seventh receive 75 minutes to respond; students in 10th grade receive 100 minutes.
Students earn scores based on the content of their responses, as well as sentence formation, mechanics and spelling. Students earn scores that range from four to 20. In order to be considered proficient, students must earn a score of 12 or above.
Students at each grade level are asked to focus on a different style of writing. In fourth grade, students are asked to write a narrative. It could be either personal or imaginative. In seventh grade, an argumentative response is asked for; and in 10th grade, an informational response is sought.
“It's not that our kids can't write,” Emanuel said. “We need to learn to be more successful in writing in those specific modes.
It has to do a lot with staff development. We've got to work in the homes and provide the students with a language-rich background so they will have experience to write about.”
The school system recently hired an English/language arts supervisor who monitors the day-to-day writing process in the classroom.

State scores
Just 48 percent of high school sophomores tested at grade level on this year's state writing exam, meaning high schools will have a harder time meeting the federal benchmarks in the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It's disappointing,” said Jane Norwood, vice chairman of the state Board of Education. “What we need to do is look at our curriculum and look at the test and try to make a determination in where the problem lies.”
This year's passing rates for fourth-graders rose 10 percentage points to 49.3 percent. Seventh-graders saw a slight increase, to 46.7 percent, and 10th-graders dropped nearly 5 percentage points.

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