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Writing scores on par with state marks

POSTED: January 3, 2013 7:06 p.m.

High school students in Effingham County are passing the Georgia High School Writing Test at a comparable rate to others statewide, but school officials are looking at ways to make the numbers better.


Ninety-three percent of the county’s students taking the test for the first time last year passed it — compared to 95 percent statewide — according to data provided to the Effingham County Board of Education by Judith Shuman, the district’s 6-12 student and professional learning coordinator. Effingham and the state both posted a 2-percent increase from the previous year’s scores.


Georgia students are required to pass the state writing test in order to earn a high school diploma. The test is given to students in the fall of their 11th-grade year, and those who do not pass it the first time have multiple opportunities to take it until they do pass it.


Effingham County and South Effingham high schools posted identical scores, with 93 percent of first-time test takers meeting or exceeding the standard for the test. Both ECHS and SEHS also had 10 percent of students exceed the standard — the same number as statewide.


Of the 623 “regular program” students in the county who took the test for the first time last year, 96 percent passed it – 97 percent at ECHS and 95 at SEHS. Effingham’s score fell just short of the state’s 97 percent.


However, the scores dropped off considerably for Effingham County’s special-needs students. Only 58 percent of the 66 special-program students who took the test for the first time last year passed it, compared to 72 percent statewide in that category.


“We always want to remember that those percentages represent individual children,” Shuman told the school board. “So as we’re thinking about what we’ll continue to do to keep our momentum (with the overall scores) and to close that achievement gap between our regular program group and our special program group, we want to look very carefully at children individually.”


Shuman said the school district is taking steps to accomplish that. For starters, school officials are digging deeper into student data in hopes of preparing them better for the test.


Shuman told the school board she has “in hand” a list of students who did not pass the Georgia High School Writing Test on the most recent offering. She said student data will be analyzed to determine any similarities among students who are not performing as well as they should.


“If there are common patterns we can identify,” Shuman said, “then (our goal is) how can we identify future students who meet that same common pattern and intervene specifically with those students?”


The key, Shuman said, is to identify at-risk students long before they take the writing test as high school juniors. By identifying students who struggled to pass their eighth-grade writing test, school leaders can do a better job assisting those students when they are high school freshmen and sophomores.


“We will sit down with the high school administration,” Shuman said, “and say, ‘Here are the children — let’s talk about their plan.’ What will happen in ninth grade with these children beyond what always happens in a classroom to help a student pass? What are the interventions with those 10th-graders to make certain they’re ready for that test in the fall of their 11th grade year?”


In addition, Shuman said, the school district plans to expand the Write to Learn program. Last year Effingham County middle schools began using Write to Learn, a software program that provides writing prompts and then gives immediate feedback as to how well the student responded to the prompt.


Shuman said the program has been “very successful” in its first year in Effingham County and the teachers using it have given “great positive feedback.” She sees the benefits of having the program in high school as well.


“So that’s another piece that we’ll add to what we haven’t done with high school students in the past,” Shuman said. “We certainly want to make sure they get that diploma in hand, and also look at the students who are at-risk for not passing.”

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