It will come as no surprise that I'm not the world's biggest NCLB supporter. I'm as big a fan of unfunded mandates as the next guy. For some reason, though, this one just doesn't engender my full-throated support. It does seem to engender my use of sarcasm. (Six of one half-dozen of the other?)
Like it or not, standardized, high-stakes, one-shot, the pressure's on, don't screw this one up, for all the marbles testing is thriving in Florida. We're thinking of ditching "The Sunshine State" and adopting "#2 Pencil Only State" as our motto. And so, when Phoenix Academy's writing results came in yesterday, I held my breath.
Principal Cantees rounded up my team leader and I and announced the news. I say this in all sincerity, I jumped up and down like a little, tiny girl and screamed like one too. Let me explain...
The test is 45 minutes and students are given one of two possible prompts - expository or persuasive. They are to plan, write and revise during that time. Accomodations are made according to IEP and 504 documentation. The test is scored by two people and assessed on a scale of U (unscorable) to 6.0. Each scorer assigns a value to the essay and the two scores are compared. If Scorer A gave an essay a 3 and Scorer B did as well, then the essay rates a 3. If there is a difference of one point (Scorer A rates an essay 3 and B rates it a 4) then the essay earns a score of 3.5. If the difference is any larger than one point, a third scorer is called in and the whole thing begins anew.
Right, so "proficient" essays are those scoring a 3.5 or higher. Anything better than a 3.5 is good. The difficult piece here is students are only tested on their writing in grades 4, 8 and 10. I'm finding my students have had little to no writing instruction since 4th grade. I think that's as good an explanation as I can muster.
Here's the breakdown:
Mean score: 3.7
3.5 or higher: 71%
4.0 or higher: 45%
5.0: 4 students
Mean score: 4.0
3.5 or higher: 82%
4.0 or higher: 75%
5.0: 7 students
5.5: 2 students
Today was a day I enjoy. I got to call each of my students back to my desk one-by-one and hand them a Post-It note with his or her individual score on it. The thing is, I was proud of each and every student. Even my students earning a 2.5 or 3.0 made my heart swell. These were the students who would have earned a U at the beginning of the year. Though they may not be "proficient," they are growing, finding their voice and realizing the power of the written word.
The challenge now is not only to do the whole thing over with next year's 8th graders, but also to build a 9th and possibly 10th grade program that includes writing instruction as a key component. I say this not because of the lurking test, but because of the lurking future for which we are charged with preparing these students. If they cannot write, if they do not write, then we have failed them. We cannot afford to fail.