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Lauren Jennings gets perfect score in 'benchmark' test

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

While direct instruction, and 'benchmark' testing generate mixed feelings among educators, for at least one student, it is a perfect assessment.

Lauren Jennings, a sixth-grader at Morrow Middle School, recorded a perfect 100 on her recent benchmark test in language arts.

"It feels like I'm top of the world," the excited youngster said. Her language arts teacher, Doreen Henton, along with her mother, Claire Jennings, were equally pleased.

"Although some questions were challenging, and the passages were lengthy, she [Lauren Jennings] persevered," said Henton. She said no other student in three similar classes did as well.

The county benchmark tests are given in several subjects. They evaluate how well a student is learning the curriculum. The language arts test consists of 25 questions, which evaluate a student's ability to understand a reading passage, and the extent of the student's vocabulary.

School district representatives gave a mixed view of the youngster's accomplishment.

School spokesman, Charles White, offered the school system's congratulations to Jennings. "Any child should take great pride in that kind of accomplishment," he said. "We encourage our children to do that well on anything they endeavor to do. We always want them to strive for academic success."

White, speaking on behalf of Chandra Johnson, the school system's executive director of research, evaluation and assessment, also cautioned that the benchmark test is "not indicative" of how a student will perform on other tests, such as the Criterion-Reference Competency Tests (CRCT), though.

Benchmark tests are part of the school system's controversial, direct-instruction programs. The programs have been criticized by local groups, who advocate for the rights of educators. Critics complain they stifle creativity in the classroom with "scripted lesson plans."

However, Lauren Jennings credits some of her success on the test to her developing writing skills. She began working on her literary talents while she was a student at Morrow Elementary School. As a fifth-grader, she participated in a writing workshop at the school, in which she wrote a poem about the names of her family members. She also wrote a short story about some of her family vacations.

She practices her vocabulary on a daily basis, reads about seven books a month, and writes in her spare time.

Language arts has not always been at the forefront of Jennings' mind, though. Despite her literary endeavors, Jennings was a fan of mathematics in elementary school, because she found it more challenging than reading a book. Her mindset has changed since she got to middle school. She now has to identify themes, and main ideas in the books she's reading.

"It's much more interesting, now," Jennings said. "It's challenging my mind to understand what I'm reading."

The increased challenge, and her performance on the benchmark test has resulted in Jennings pushing herself further in her pursuit of an education.

"It's inspired me to learn, so I can reach my goal of being a fifth-grade teacher," Jennings said. "I want to help kids learn someday."