By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County eighth-graders did so well on the Georgia Middle Grades Writing Assessment, they surpassed the gains made by their peers across Georgia.
Seventy percent of Clayton County eighth-graders met or exceeded the state's standard for writing this year, which is up from 54 percent during the 2006-2007 school year. Statewide, 77 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded the standard, an increase of only 10 percentage points from the previous school year.
"I commend our students for keeping their focus on working hard and doing their best," said Interim Superintendent Dr. Gloria Duncan, in a statement. "I also commend our instructional staff for their effort and dedication to improving student academic achievement.
"It is through this kind of commitment that we as a district will succeed in preparing our students to face the future. Remember, it's all about results," she added.
The test is given to eighth-graders every January. The pupils have 100 minutes to write an essay on an assigned topic. The students are evaluated on their response to the topic. Since students don't know if they will have to write a persuasive essay, or an expository one (which explores an idea), they must be ready to write both types.
The assessment is used to determine whether or not a child is learning the topics outlined in the Georgia Performance Standards for his or her grade level. The scoring scale for the assessment ranges from 100 to 350 points. A students must score at least 200 points to meet the state standards, and 250 to exceed them.
Kay Sledge, the school system's assistant superintendent for middle schools, said the district's gains are the result of schools taking a "practice makes perfect" approach to preparing pupils for the assessment.
"We provided our students with sample [topics], then scored their responses and [offered] immediate individual feedback," Sledge said. "We continued this process as needed."
Adamson Middle School showed a 33 percent increase in the number of students passing the test. Forty-four percent of eighth-graders at Adamson met or exceeded the state standard during the 2006-2007 school year. Seventy-seven percent of the students who took the test this year made the same achievement.
Adamson's gains were the largest in the district.
Lonnie White, who took over as the school's principal in February, said the school's faculty, staff and students were confident about possible gains on the writing assessment when he arrived at the school.
Joel Boyce, Adamson's literacy coach, began working with literacy teachers at the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade levels this year to improve scores. The teachers put more emphasis on basic writing skills, such as how to write an essay, express thoughts and use imagination, White said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Douglas Hendrix, the school's former principal, brought in a company named Learning Express, LLC, which specializes in writing improvement and assessment, to offer training, which reinforced Boyce's efforts.
"We are really excited about what our students and our teachers have been able to accomplish," White said. "This is like a relay. Dr. Hendrix handed me a baton filled with great students and teachers and it's my turn to run with it ... We don't want to settle for what we've accomplished this year. We want to see more gains next year, as well."
White, who came from Kendrick Middle School, which also had big gains on the writing assessment, said it's not a fluke that 11 out of 13 middle schools showed improvement this year.
One school, Morrow Middle School, showed no change in the percentage of students who met or exceeded the state standard on the test. Riverdale Middle School recorded a drop of one percentage point from last year.
Students at another middle school, Rex Mill Middle School, did not take the writing assessment last year, so there is no previous data to compare against their performance from this year.
"It's not an accident," White said. "Everybody was doing the same types of things to prepare for the writing assessment this year. We all wanted to see the scores go up."
Georgia and Clayton County students performed as follows on the writing assessment this year (Middle schools are organized by their gains):
· Georgia: 77 percent met or exceeded the state standard (+ 10 percentage points)
· Clayton County: 70 percent (+ 16 points)
· Adamson Middle School: 77 percent (+ 33 points)
· Mundy's Mill Middle School: 72 percent (+ 26 points)
· Sequoyah Middle School: 67 percent (+ 26 points)
· Kendrick Middle School: 64 percent (+ 23 points)
· Lovejoy Middle School: 75 percent (+ 21 points)
· Babb Middle School: 83 percent (+ 19 points)
· North Clayton Middle School: 66 percent (+13 points)
· Forest Park Middle School: 61 percent (+13 points)
· Jonesboro Middle School: 64 percent (+10 points)
· Pointe South Middle School: 64 percent (+ 10 points)
· M.D. Roberts Middle School: 70 percent (+4 points)
· Morrow Middle School: 64 percent (no change)
· Riverdale Middle School: 67 percent (- 1 point)
· Rex Mill Middle School: 77 percent (first year offering the assessment)