The test was given in January. Paynesville had 120 tenth graders and 11 juniors take the test. Still needing to pass the test are 11 tenth graders and four juniors.
"I feel we are doing something right," said Michelle Anderson, ninth grade communications teacher, in response to the test scores.
This is the second year students have been required to take the composition test. The state average was 86 percent passing. Paynesville tied with Kimball for the highest percentage of students passing the test in the area. (see chart) Ninety-three percent of last year's class passed the test.
"Of those students who did not pass, they all received a score of two, which indicates they are close to passing," said Danith Clausen, the school district's curriculum coordinator.
The compositions are scored from zero to six. Zero is the poorest grade, and six is for the exceptionally skillful. A score of three is needed to pass.
According to Clausen, the scoring was changed this year, adding the five and six to give a better estimation of students on the high end of the skill level. Paynesville had five students receive a score of five, indicating they had a skillful composition, but no sixes were awarded.
The subject of the essay was: "Your teacher has asked you to write about one thing you would like to change about yourself. Give specific reasons why you would like to change and enough details so your teacher will understand your ideas."
The question raised a bit of controversy across the state on the grounds that it was too personal. In many schools in the metro area, students refused to take the test because of the question.
After taking the test, several of the students told Amy Flanders, tenth grade communications teacher, they did not like the test question and made things up in order to have something on their papers.
"I give huge credit to the writing program within the district," Clausen said. She stressed the teachers from the elementary to the high school do an excellent job with their writting curriculum. "Our students get a lot of writing experience," she added.
Clausen also gave a lot of credit to Deb Ficek, Andersen, and Flanders, the ninth and tenth grade communications teachers. "They take the time to work with the students and connect with the ones who have not passed," she added.
Clausen explained that each student is given the opportunity to do a rough draft of the test, then they can rewrite their answer in final form. Misspelling the common words counts against the student. If misspelling interferes with the message, that is another count against the student.
"Students can't use dictionaries or spell check to help them with their words," she said. Clausen added, the students were on their own. They enter the testing room only with pencils. They cannot use a dictionary.
The Paynesville teachers stress that students need to proofread their work slowly, sometimes reading it backwards (end to beginning) to catch misspelled words.
According to Anderson, she and Ficek try to teach the ninth grade students the basic structure of a five-paragraph essay. Flanders touches upon the topic again in the tenth grade. "We have a couple of things going for us," Flanders said. "In the ninth grade the students practice the five-paragraph theme. In the tenth grade, they have practice tests to prepare them for the real thing."
Flanders stresses to the students that if they have problems with spelling, select smaller words.Flanders goes over the practice tests and explains to the students their problem areas, be it spelling, fragment sentences, or staying on the topic.
The students were told to make sure their composition had the following: a focused central idea, supporting details, correct spelling and grammar, and complete sentences.
Prior to test day, Flanders sends home additional writing tips for the students to follow. They include: remember to incorporate the topic into the first paragraph, start with an attention-getter; be sure to stick to the topic; handwriting must be legible; spell out small numbers; and proofread your work slowly several times when you complete your writing.
The students who did not pass the writing, reading, or math basic skills test will be able to retake the tests on July 22 at the high school.
Area test results
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Paynesville - 94
Kimball - 94
BBE - 91
Sauk Centre - 91
NLS - 89
Rocori - 88
Annandale - 87
LPGE - 87
Melrose - 86
Willmar - 85
ACGC - 85
Albany - 85
Benson - 85
*Percentage of area students passing test
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