Thursday, June 23, 2005

More Testing Woes: How Does One Test Good Writing?

In North Carolina, the results of the latest administration of the state's writing test showed some disappointing results:
Statewide last year, fewer than half the students in the three tested grade levels earned passing scores. Fourth-graders improved from the previous year, seventh- graders showed little change, and 10th-graders lost ground.

Even though about half of the state's students scored below proficient levels, Fabrizio said thousands were within easy reach of passing the writing test. Tens of thousands of students are a couple of points shy of passing scores.

Students can receive a maximum of 20 points on the test, with a score of 12 as passing or proficient -- known as Level III in the state's scoring system. Among the 101,758 fourth-graders tested last year, for example, 24,187 of them scored a 10. Among seventh-graders, 38,032 of the 107,035 earned a score of 10.
As is so often the case, students from more affluent areas scored higher on the tests, but educators in these higher-scoring areas also expressed concerns about the test:
Performance was better in several Triangle school districts, but even in the highest-scoring system, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, fewer than 75 percent of students at any of the three grades received proficient scores.

But Triangle educators wonder whether the state has set standards that often are too difficult for students and schools to meet. In fourth grade statewide, fewer than 2 percent of students earned a score greater than 16 points -- which represents the top achievement rung, or Level IV. In seventh and 10th grades, fewer than 1 percent earned scores high enough to rank in Level IV.

Fewer than two-tenths of 1 percent of seventh-graders and fewer than three-tenths of 1 percent of 10th-graders scored in the top tier.

"Either the expectations are too high or the prompts are too difficult," said Diane Villwock, testing director for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system. "Every year these scores come out, there's frustration. In schools where they've worked really hard, there's still a 20-point difference between writing and other state tests."

Villwock said that she would struggle to respond to the prompt 10th-graders were asked to tackle: "Write an article for a school newspaper about the meaning of individuality as it relates to being a member of a group." Students were told to draw from their own experiences, observations or readings as well as a series of seven quotations that they could use.
It seems to me that the prompt used for the 10th grade test may have been better suited to a college-level test, not for a test given to 15 and 16-year-olds.
Get entry guidelines to next Wednesday's Carnival Of Education right here.

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