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Writing activities getting students in shape for test

By Greg Gelpi

Preparing for a state-mandated test, students were all smiles at North Clayton Middle School this week as education took on an interactive approach.

Faces lit up in a dark classroom as a vibrant teacher engaged her students in an activity to stir their creative juices as part of a week of writing-intensive activities.

Listing the fruits of her students' brainstorming on an overhead projector, Starla Bailey passed around a single photograph and pushed them to describe the picture in words that would make her see the picture without having it in front of her. Words such as "apple-nosed" and "elf-sized" leapt from their young minds as they unknowingly prepared for their pending writing tests.

"Her class is cool," Ugochi Nwosu, 14, said. "Rather than just read this and read that, we talk about stuff."

The young lawyer or psychiatrist-to-be confidently said she is prepared for the writing test thanks to her teachers who build upon each other's lessons each year.

The "Write Attitude" campaign was designed to prepare students for the writing portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test, which its eighth graders will be taking in January. The mock version of the test is scheduled for Oct. 13.

"We've done writing activities in the past, but this is the first time to have a whole week," NCMS Principal Clarence Jackson said.

And not only do the students learn to write, they learn other things while they write. As part of the school's character education, the children tackle issues like responsibility and respect in their writing and experience writing throughout all their classes.

"If they write about it, maybe they will learn a little bit about it," Jackson said.

Clayton County regularly ranks near the state average in writing test scores, Ray Blakely, the Clayton County student assessment coordinator, said.

"Our writing scores are typically close to the state scores," Blakely said.

Students taking the test are required to write a one to two page response to a prompt supplied by the state.

In 2002, 89 percent of Clayton students passed the writing portion as compared to 91 percent at the state level, Blakely said. Two years ago, 94 percent of the county and state passed.

The state mandates students in third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades take the test. In addition to the writing section, students are also tested on content areas of math, science and social studies.