The following are my reasons for the new DWA:
1. Limitation of the PAT #1 - they are only administered in grades 3, 6, and 9. I wanted a tool that would give us data on how well students are writing on an annual basis. The new DWA can also be put into students' cum files so that teachers can read and reflect on where their students are at from year to year.
2. Limitation of the PAT #2 - the topics for the PATs are not always readily accessible for our students (like last year's grade 3 topic where the illustration depicted an African boy wearing a safari hat staring in the face of a zebra - set in some tall reeds and an orange background insinuating a setting sun in the desert safari or something). The DWA will be culturally sensitive and accessible to our students. We will choose to use images or illustrations that students can relate to and write about.
3. Limitation of the PAT #3 - student related anxiety and absenteeism. As discussed in the grade level meetings, many of our students experience test related anxiety related to the PATs which results in either the chance of underperformance or simply not coming to school on the day of the test. Having our own assessment can both reduce the stress related to writing an assignment like this, and we have the ability to get all of our students to participate.
4. The choice or narrative writing based on an image or illustration for all grades. This is something that came up in all of the grade level meetings. My rationale for choosing this is because 1) students write stories based on images/illustrations in grades 3 and 6 for the PATs, 2) students still have the option of writing a narrative story in grade 9 even though it is based on a prompt instead of an image/illustration, 3) it should be a writing form that all students should have had some exposure to and comfort with, 4) having the same task for all grades streamlined the process, and 5) the concept of stories has a cultural significance for First Nation peoples.
The main concern that stemmed from the grade level meetings was the choice to focus on narrative writing versus expository writing. This debate has some merit, as students eventually move from narrative writing to expository writing in the higher grades. Nevertheless, the curriculum, as it is, still calls for the exploration of different forms of writing... which is why it is still presented as a choice for students on the grade 9 PAT (narrative story or expository essay). Plus, when teaching English language arts, teachers should theoretically be teaching multiple forms of writing and should at least be teaching both narrative and expository essay writing.
5. Flexibility. Because the DWA is a locally developed and administered assessment, we don't have to worry about any of the regulations related to a secured large scale assessment like the PATs. That means we can make any accommodations we need to in order to get the best work from our students. And the better the sample we get from them, the better we can understand where they are at in their learning and how to help them.
6. The facilitation of PD. My last, and maybe the most important reason, is that this process can create opportunities for teachers to dialogue and consider what they teach, how they teach, and how they assess when it comes to teaching writing in the classroom. The grade level meetings have already spurred discussion about how teachers approach writing in their classrooms.
By having an assessment that is the same across the grades will facilitate similar writing instruction and assessment. This uniformity will help teachers be more effective in teaching writing, and it will also help students because of the consistency as they move from grade to grade and class to class. In addition, the upcoming marking session on May 23rd will help us determine what our writing standards are for each of the grades... thus unifying our understanding of what writing is or should be, and where we want them to be in terms of overall ability. I'm actually quite excited about the discussions we will have about marking and what will come of the PD session.
Anyway, these are my reasons for the pilot district writing assessment. I got the impression that many people are on the same page as I am with regards to the DWA (based on the responses I received at the meetings); however, I really want additional feedback on what we're doing and how we're moving forward with this. Please don't hesitate to contact me or comment on this post.
Have a great Easter weekend.