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Clayton Schools boasts big writing assessment gains

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The number of Clayton County eighth-graders meeting, or exceeding, standards on the state's writing assessment went up by eight percentage points, after the district rolled out an increased focus on writing, school system officials said on Monday.

Figures recently released by the district show 85 percent of eighth-graders in the county met, or exceeded, the state's writing standards on a state writing assessment conducted in January. Last year, only 77 percent of eighth-graders in the county met, or exceeded state standards on the assessment, according to the district's data.

The district's data showed gains were made at every middle school in the county that has been open for at least two school years. Some of those gains were as small as two percentage points, while others were as high as 23 points. One school, the Eddie J. White K-8 academy, just opened at the beginning of this school year, and therefore has no previous data to compare.

"I am extremely pleased by the results of this year's grade-eight writing assessment," said school system Superintendent Edmond Heatley, in a written statement. "I commend our students for their hard work and their commitment to doing their best. I also commend our instructional staff for their effort and dedication to improving student academic achievement."

The district's data also shows Clayton County stu

dents, as a whole, outperforming their counterparts across the state this year. Statewide, 82 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded standards on the writing assessment, compared to 79 percent a year ago, according to Clayton County schools' data.

Ebony Thomas, the language arts coordinator for Clayton County Public Schools, said the school system spent this school year focusing on every aspect of student writing, from the words the pupils used, to their editing skills, to the arguments they expressed.

Thomas added a major focus was put on the thoughts students expressed in their writing, since their ability to convey arguments made up 40 percent of their writing assessment scores. "We wanted to look at how do we get them to expand their ideas, to get into the analytical side of their writing, so they keep bringing in new arguments, and not repeating the same things over, and over again," she said.

Thomas said the school system implemented a writer's workshop training program for teachers of the fourth-, fifth-, seventh-, eighth-, tenth-, and eleventh-grades last summer. The purpose of the workshop, she said, was to make sure educators were "on the same page" with the way they taught students to write.

She said the school system's three cluster-level language arts facilitators, Dr. Kathryn Holloman, Arlando Dawson and Joane McDonald, also conducted additional professional development sessions with educators, and worked with students to help bring them into the process of accessing their skill level in writing, and where they still need to improve.

Thomas said the writing workshop will be expanded to all grade-levels this summer, as the district sets a goal of having 93 percent of eighth-graders meet, or exceed state standards on next year's writing assessment. This year, the goal was to make 85 percent, she said.

School system Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Diana Carey, said a student's writing skills will become more important in the next few years, as the school system prepares to roll out the state's Common Core Curriculum. She said the district will have to "embrace and conquer the challenge of writing across the curriculum" when the new curriculum is implemented during the 2012-2013 school year.

"In the upcoming Common Core Curriculum, there's going to be an increased emphasis on writing, as it becomes a central component in every subject," she said.

The largest gain, by far, was seen at Jonesboro Middle School, which had a 23 percentage point increase in the number of eighth-graders meeting or exceeding state standards on the writing assessment this year (89 percent this year, compared to 66 percent last year).

Five other middle schools also saw double digit gains. Those schools were Elite Scholars Academy Charter School (97 percent of eighth-graders met, or exceeded standards, up 14 points); Mundy's Mill Middle School (86 percent, up 14 points); M.D. Roberts Middle School (86 percent, up 14 points); Lovejoy Middle School (81 percent, up 13 points), and Kendrick Middle School (84 percent, up 10 points)

The remaining nine schools had single-digit gains. Those schools, in order of their gains, included: Forest Park Middle School (90 percent, up nine points); Pointe South Middle School (82 percent, up nine points); Babb Middle School (89 percent, up eight points); Morrow Middle School (89 percent, up eight points); Sequoyah Middle School (85 percent, up four points); Adamson Middle School (84 percent, up three points); Rex Mill Middle School (85 percent, up three points); North Clayton Middle School (79 percent, up two points), and Riverdale Middle School (81 percent, up two points).

In it's first school year, the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy, saw 84 percent of its eighth-graders meet, or exceed state writing standards on the assessment.

In all, 13 out of 16 middle schools in Clayton County matched, or exceeded that state's 82 percent meeting, or exceeding rate, according to the district's data. The data shows two schools --Lovejoy Middle School, and Riverdale Middle School-- were, each, one percentage point shy of matching the state's passing rate.