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Writing assessment scores fall behind

As this year’s fifth and eighth graders make the jump to middle school and high school, respectively, there is some information available to gauge how well they will be able to write at the higher level.

The majority of these students took an in-house writing assessment last February and the results give school officials another tool to gauge student progress.

Of the 442 eighth graders, 247 scored slightly below standard while 117 met or exceeded standard. Another 13 students scored significantly lower than the standard. Another 65 weren’t tested.

Of the 459 fifth graders, 293 scored slightly below standard while 84 met or exceeded standard. Another 35 students scored significantly lower than the standard. Another 47 weren’t tested.

Charisse Berner, curriculum director for the Oak Harbor School District, said she would have liked the students to score better on the assessment. The writing assessment helps identify students that may need some extra help in the coming year.

The test also showed a difference in the results based on gender. Girls generally scored higher on the test than boys.

Berner said she didn’t have a definitive answer for the disparity. She speculated that boys may tend to shy away from writing and teachers need to find a way to reach them.

The assessment helps identify areas where a student needs the most help.

“It takes their writing apart bit by bit,” Berner said. The assessment breaks down into such categories as word choice, sentence fluency, usage, capitalization, punctuation and spelling. That breakdown can be used by teachers in the next grade to help students.

Berner said the writing part of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning provides more of an overall view of student ability and doesn’t break the score down into specific categories.

Students took the test over several days last February in hopes of having scores available in time to prepare for the next school year, Berner said. Taking the test in February also meant students didn’t benefit from the last three months of the school year.

Not all students took the assessment. When it was offered, 112 students didn’t take the test. Berner said many students were sick and couldn’t attend.

Berner said the assessment will be fine-tuned in coming years. It could be adjusted as the standard may be set too high to gauge student abilities.

The writing assessment will be compared with the WASL this summer to see how the results stack up. Beginning next school year, sophomores have to pass the WASL to graduate from high school.

This was the first time in two years that the Oak Harbor School District offered the assessment. It cost $17,000 to conduct this year.

Berner said cost was one of the reasons the assessment wasn’t offered in previous years. School officials had to find another company to score the test and they also wanted to see how it affects the WASL.

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