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TCS writing scores impress

Dorothy Peterson was understandably proud of her students on Monday.

Standing before the Troy City School board members, the chairman of the English Department of Charles Henderson High School admitted as much.

“This year I am so proud of our students,” she said. “I’m very proud.”

The students, she went on to explain, performed exceptionally well on the 2010 Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing, administered in the fall to fifth-, seventh- and tenth-graders across the state.

The sophomores scored 93 percent proficient, with 98 percent proficiency in narrative writing; 94 percent in expository; and 87 percent in persuasive.

The seventh-graders scored 90 percent proficient, with 79 percent in descriptive, writing 100 percent proficiency in narrative, 83 percent in expository, and 98 percent in persuasive.

And the fifth-graders scored 72 percent proficient, with 54 percent proficiency in descriptive writing; 79 percent in narrative; and 73 percent in expository.

For Peterson, who taught the sophomores last year, the exceptional scores for the high-schoolers came as no surprise.

“When the tenth-graders went in there to take this test, they went in there with confidence,” she said. “They had gone over and over this.”

That preparation begins in kindergarten, said Cindy Miller, instructional specialist for the Troy City Schools. And, thanks to a district-wide writing plan, the focused effort to develop writing schools across grades and schools is paying off.

“We’ve tracked some of these students since we implemented the writing plan in 2001,” she said. “One group moved from 58 (percent proficient in third grade) to 77 percent (in fifth grade) to 89 (percent in tenth grade). It’s moving up because of the system wide writing plan.”

Miller said the system’s writing plan was adapted from models of other writing plans. It uses circles, triangles and rectangles to help students as young as kindergarten structure writings.

“Teachers are free in most systems to teach writing however they want … some may use an ice cream cone (model), others an umbrella … we wanted to make sure we had consistency in our writing plan,” she said. “The kids know about circles, triangles and rectangles, and when they get to seventh-grade, they just keep building on that.”

Peterson said having that type of concrete approach to organization helps when students are introduced to higher-order organizational and writing concepts, which is a key part of the writing plan. “It helps for some kids to have something concrete they can relate a section of an essay to,” she said. “By the time they reach middle school or high school, we can team them structure or form.”

The Class of 2012, who were sophomores for the 2010 writing assessment, were in elementary school when the writing plan was implemented. Miller said their writing scores show marked improvement throughout the years: 70 percent proficiency as fifth-graders, 90 percent as seventh-graders, 93 percent as sophomores.

And, like all teachers, she reiterates that writing is the core of learning and communication skills. “Students need to be able to write to communicate, in all they do and in college.”

Even though the state of Alabama will not require the Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing during the 2010-2011 school year, Superintendent Dr. Linda Felton-Smith said the Troy City Schools will continue to conduct the assessment internally for all fifth-, seventh- and tenth-graders. “Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Peterson and Mrs. (Alane) Williams will for the core writing assessment group and will oversee the training and administration for that.”

“Earlier in the year when I discovered that the state would no longer continue the test we definitely wanted to create a local test,” Peterson said, explaining that the writing assessment measures both a student’s writing ability and is a way to predict a student’s performance on the ACT test.”