One down, four to go. Members of the Thomson High School Class of 2010 received their scores Friday from the Georgia High School Writing Test. The test is one of five exams students must pass to earn a diploma in Georgia.
"It's very complicated, and they did remarkably well," said Lynn Cato, the Thomson High assistant principal in curriculum and instruction.
Eighty-nine percent of all first-time test takers passed the test this year, compared with 86 percent last year, Ms. Cato said. The state average this year was 91 percent.
"So, we were just a little below that, but we were pleased to see the increase from last year," Ms. Cato said.
The writing test is given in September, and the tests on English, math, science and social studies will be taken in March. Ms. Cato said the writing test, which coincides with the Georgia Performance Standards curriculum, has a higher performance standard than a few years ago.
"Rather than a formulaic style that focuses on organization, the emphasis of the new standards is on ideas. So, the students have to develop ideas. They have to quote statistics or quote sources. But, of course, they can use no resources when they are writing the test. Everything has to come out of their heads," she said.
For the test, students receive a previously-unseen persuasive writing situation, such as "write a letter to your legislator," or "write a speech to be given to the incoming ninth grade," along with a current event topic to write about.
"So, it's very important that kids stay abreast of current events and current issues," Ms. Cato said. "Because then they are able to pull in that information as the background, and it makes the writing a lot easier for them."
The teachers encourage the students to watch news and read newspapers. The teachers also bring current issues into both social studies and English classes, and relate the contents and topics of the lessons to actual events taking place in society.
"Of course, we are about to send our kids out into the real world, so it's really important that they are good citizens and are aware of what's going on in society," Ms. Cato said.
The writing test allows students 100 minutes after receiving their topic to plan and pre-write, write and edit a rough draft, copy the work into a space that does not exceed two pages on a final draft and proof read the final draft.
"And all that has to be done before the 100 minutes are up, so it can be quite a task," Ms. Cato said.
To prepare students for the test, McDuffie County Schools uses Georgia Supplemental Writing Tests in multiple grades from upper elementary through middle school; maintains a kindergarten through 12th-grade writing folder to inform instruction for each student; and emphasizes writing in all subjects with an increased focus on the writing process in 10th grade. The Advanced Placement model for acknowledging opposing points of view and establishing a thesis statement and the proper use of subordinate clauses also is taught.
Only 21 of the 278 students who took the test did not pass.
Ms. Cato said those students will have the opportunity to take the test again in February and July.
After-school tutoring and remediation opportunities are provided for students who need to retest.