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NEWS RELEASES 2000-01 :: AUGUST 1, 2000


Writing test scores in North Carolina public schools are up again this year, continuing a trend of the past few years. Students in grades four, seven and 10 take a writing assessment each year. Since 1996, the percentage of students earning a score at grade level has risen consistently for the fourth and seventh graders. Tenth grade scores have steadily improved since 1992-93, expect for 1997-98, when the scores dipped slightly. Tenth grade scores in 1999-2000 surpassed all previous years' scores.

Fourth and seventh graders took the North Carolina Assessment of Writing on March 7 statewide. Tenth graders took the English II essay assessment on Nov. 3, Nov. 8 or March 7.

Despite earlier concerns that school days lost to hurricanes and a record snowfall would mean a decline in scores, student scores actually improved. Results show that 57.6 percent of fourth graders scored at or above 2.5, considered to be the grade-level standard for the writing test. An even higher percentage of seventh graders - 71.9 percent - scored at or above 2.5. In 1999, 55.2 percent of fourth graders were considered at grade level in writing, and 70.3 percent of eighth graders scored at that level or better.

Since the writing tests are given in grades four and seven, they are especially important for students who will soon be affected by the state's new Student Accountability Standards at grades three, five and eight. Promotion decisions are not made based solely on students' performance on the writing tests. Instead, the writing tests are designed to be a screen to determine if students need help with their writing. The new Student Accountability Standards apply to fifth graders for the first time in the coming school year, and to third and eighth graders for the first time in 2001-02. The Standards require students at these grades to be at grade level, as measured on end-of-grade tests, before they are promoted to the next grade.

On the fourth and seventh grade tests, students receive a two-or three-sentence prompt and their timed response is scored for its main idea, supporting details, organization, and coherence. The scoring scale ranges from one to four. A one-point response exhibits a lack of command of the type of writing tested. A two-point response shows a weak command; three points, a reasonable command and four points, a strong command.

Fifty-eight percent of 10th graders this year scored at standard on the English II writing test. These student essays are scored on a six-point scale for content, and on a three-point scale for sentence formation, usage, grammar and spelling. In 1999, 57 percent of students scored at or above the standard. Four years ago, in 1997, slightly less than half, 49.7 percent reached the standard of 3.0.

The English II writing test is a state-required assessment of student performance at 10th grade that focuses on world literature other than that of Great Britain and the United States.

State Superintendent Mike Ward said that the writing scores this year show that students and teachers focus on writing every year, not only in the grades when it is tested. "Even in a year with large disruptions to the school calendar for many students and teachers, students continued to show that they are building strong writing skills. These skills will serve them well throughout their lives."

State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk congratulated teachers and students. "If you spend time in North Carolina schools, you know that writing is emphasized in many subjects, not just in English language arts. The continued improvement in this area shows that students are taking this seriously. Their hard work is paying off."

Scores generally were up for both male and female students at every grade level, although there were some variations when scores were considered by ethnicity. For fourth graders, every group posted improvements. At the seventh grade level, scores dipped by one or two points for American Indian, Black, Hispanic and multiracial students.

Scores went up for most ethnic groups at the 10th grade level, with the exception of a slight dip for students identified as Asian or in the Other category.

This year, fourth grade students were asked to write a narrative about a book character who comes to life. Seventh grade students wrote expository essays about the most important job in their school and why.

Tenth graders were asked to write a composition about the role of a minor character taken from the novels, short stories, full-length plays, poems, biographies and autobiographies the students have read. The example used had to be from world literature, excluding British and American authors.

For more information, contact State Testing Coordinator Mildred Bazemore, 919.807.3704. Local scores can be obtained from local testing coordinators or superintendents.

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.