Over the last couple of months, we've been in discussion here at the NEA about how we could improve student literacy in the area of writing. As such, we have also done some data mining and looking at how our students do on the Provincial Achievement Tests in grades 3, 6, and 9. We also looked at the assessments themselves and wondered if there were additional things we could do to improve writing instruction and gather better/more useful data to inform ourselves on student learning in this area.
I am happy to report that the result of our discussion is a new pilot program in the district, which I call the District Writing Assessment. Essentially, it is a narrative story writing task that is the same from grades 1-9. It mirrors the PATs and differs only in the level of teacher involvement in the front matter of the task (discussion and planning), how much time the students receive to complete the task, and how it will be marked at each grade.
There are a few important points to make about the new District Writing Assessment that I believe will give us a better sense of where our students are at in regards to their writing abilities. The first is that we are structuring the task to a narrative story, something that is taught to students from the time they begin school, and also something that is cultural in nature - the aspect of story telling to pass culture on from one generation to the next. Second, the task will be to write a story based on an image or photograph. These will be cultural in nature as well (a major difference from the PATs) and will make this task more inviting and accessible by our students. And finally, this task will be designed to have teachers an ability to work more closely with students in regards to the discussion and planning that will happen before the students actually get to writing. This is different than the PATs and reflects a philosophy that students can be successful if given the right tools to succeed.
The main purpose of getting together for grade level meetings is to have teacher input and involvement of the development of the pilot task before it is actually administered. Prototypes have been made for the task (grades 1-9) and scoring guides have been made for grades 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9. During our meetings we will analyse and discuss the prototypes so that teachers feel that they are comfortable with the design and how it will be administered. It is my belief that there will be more buy in from teachers in regards to this assessment, and any future instruction that will go into preparing students to write this way, if they have the opportunity to be part of the process too.
I look forward to meeting with all of you after spring break and to get this pilot project up and running. Please do not hesitate to post comments or questions, or to email me should you have anything you want to talk about.
P.S. The Pocahontas image you see in the picture is NOT what we will use for the actual task. It was simply put in there for formatting purposes and we will discuss the actual image/photo that will be used on the pilot administration of the assessment.