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Paynesville Press - May 23, 2001

Passage of writing test tops 90 percent

By Michael Jacobson

More than 90 percent of Paynesville's tenth graders passed the Basic Skills Writing Test this year. Results from this year's test, taken in January, have now been released.

Paynesville is one of three area school districts who have passed at least 90 percent of its sophomores for all three years the writing test has been required. (See chart.) Ninety-one percent of Paynesville's sophomores passed the test.

But, in past years, Paynesville has had one of the highest scores in the area and have been well above the state average. This year, many other schools joined Paynesville with more than 90 percent passing, and the state average raised to 92 percent.

"In general, we're still in the 90s, so I'm pleased about that. Of course, they could do better," said Amy Flanders, an English teacher at Paynesville Area High School who teaches some sophomore sections.

Paynesville's teachers were more impressed by the improvement elsewhere than concerned by the slight drop in Paynesville's passing rate. With a class size of 101, one student means one percentage point, and some variation is to be expected. "Obviously, you're not going to have the same number pass each year," explained Flanders. "We still want everyone to pass," she added.

Flanders, Deb Ficek, who also teaches some sophomore English sections, and Michelle Andersen, who teaches ninth grade English, felt that the Paynesville program was in good shape, as evidenced by its history of scores in the 90s.

"We've always had a very strong writing program," said Ficek. "We've always emphasized the criteria used by the state, so when the test came out, we did well."

This year's writing topic was to write about a time when the student learned something about themselves. Their essays are judged on whether they have a clear idea, supporting details, logical organization, correct spelling and grammar, and complete sentences.

The essays are judged on a scale from zero to six. A score of three or four is needed to pass. Scores of five and six have been added to recognize writing that exceeds the basic standards expected of high school graduates. These scores recognize sophistication in writing, including elaboration and use of voice, the teachers said.

"More writing doesn't mean a better score. You can pass with one page as well as three pages," said Flanders.

The Paynesville curriculum includes a unit by Andersen on the five-paragraph essay in ninth grade. Ficek and Flanders review that approach and expand on it.

The five-paragraph essay - introduction, three-paragraph body, and conclusion - helps students meet the writing standard of organization, requiring each essay to have a beginning, middle, and end.

Equating the test to an activity that the students have practiced hopefully puts them at ease, the teachers said. "That helps the people who hear ‘paper' and panic," explained Andersen.

The students also review writing skills, take practice tests, and judge sample papers for an idea of how their tests will be graded.

During the test, students are urged to brainstorm, jot down ideas, write a rough draft, edit, and write a final draft. The test is not timed.

This year's seniors will be the first class who need to pass the writing test, as well as the test in reading and mathematics, in order to graduate. Last year's graduates needed just to have passed the reading and mathematics tests.

High school principal John Janotta said the basic standard requirements would not keep any senior from graduating this year, though a lack of credits might.

Of the 12 juniors who still needed to pass the writing test, seven did so this time.

The next chance for basic skills retesting is in July. The reading test will be offered on July 17, the math test on July 18, and the writing test on July 19. Tests for those dates need to be ordered in advance, so students wishing to retest should contact their building principal as soon as possible.

Middle school students should contact principal Deb Gillman (320-243-3724), and high school students should contact principal John Janotta (320-243-3761).

The teachers will be helping students who still need to pass the test. "They are squeezing this in prep periods, before or after lunch, and before or after school out of the goodness of their hearts," said Andersen.

Unlike the reading and math tests, where breakdowns of the students' scoring is given to schools, nothing besides the scores is returned to the writing teachers."For us, as instructors, that's one aspect that needs to be addressed by the state. It is really hard to improve if you don't know what needs to be improved," said Ficek.

The single biggest help, the teachers agreed, is looking at the original test for areas of improvement. So students and parents, who can gain access to their test, should keep it for revision work.

Basic Skills Writing Test

School

98-99

99-00

00-01

ACGC

77%

85%

91%

Albany

90

85

88

BBE

91

91

100

EV-W

90

82

95

Kimball

88

94

95

Litchfield

84

84

96

LPGE

90

87

95

Melrose

89

88

89

NL-S

88

89

97

Paynesville

93

94

91

Rocori

94

88

95

Sauk Centre

93

91

98

St. Cloud

89

84

95

Willmar

83

85

92

State Avg.

85

86

95



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