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Vol. 17  No. 21 Final Edition
Clovis Free Press
Sunday Feb. 25, 2001

How would you score
state writing test samples of fourth-graders?
By Diane D'Amico, Education Writer

    CLOVIS --The state’s writing test for fourth-graders has been the subject of substantial controversy. After students scored very poorly two years in a row, state officials reviewed the process for scoring the test and last year made changes that they said more accurately reflect state expectations and student abilities.
     One thing everyone agreed this year is that the writing portion of the Elementary School Proficiency Assessment is not easy. The student writing which folloes is reproduced from a sample test released by the state Department of Education.
     Students were asked to compose a story about what might be happening in the drawing. They had 25 minutes to write their responses. The students’ stories were scored by trained readers using numeri codes, where 1 represents inadequate command of written language -- 2 limited command, --3 partial command -- 4 adequate command -- 5 strong command -- 6 superior command.
     The readers received a set of guidelines to follow in determining their scores that included content and organization, language usage, sentence construction and mechanics. Two readers scored each response. If their scores were markedly different, the response was reviewed again by the team leader and chief reader.
     The writing requirement within the Language Arts Literacy standards states, “All students will write in clear, concise, organized language that varies in content and form for different audiences and purposes.”
     There also are 14 “progress indicators” for how students should achieve the standard. The 14 indicators for fourth-graders include: "Use speaking, listening, reading and viewing to assist with writing. Write from experiences, thoughts and feelings. Write for a variety of purposes such as to persuade, entertain, learn, inform, record and solve problems. Use figurative language such as simile, metaphor and analogies to extend meaning. Edit writing for developmentally appropriate syntax, spelling, grammar, usage and punctuation."
     Following are samples of actual responses from fourth-graders. Teachers throughout the state have been given these and other responses to help them understand what is expected and prepare their students to meet those expectations.
     To make things interesting, see if you can tell which score from 1-6 the responses received from the professional readers. The actual scores and judges’ comments are listed at the bottom. All responses are as the children wrote them, including spelling and grammar mistakes. Students’ responses

One day when I was walking down the road with my cat, Tomas, to my friends house, I saw to boys fishing in a lake. They cought a trout and they gave it to my cat to eat. My cat simply loved it. Then I saw a man powing some dirt to plant vegetables, and he gave us some carrots to make carrot pie, which I am famous for. Then we saw some sailboats, and we took a ride on one, it was very fun. Then I finaly got to my best friend Peggy hachin’s house.

Once upon a time there lived a lady who lived in a house on an Island all alone. Every morning she goes for a walk. On her walks she trie to help the busy people ineed, but instead of helping she makes thing worse. One night she wished and wished upon a star and she said, “I wish I could do something helpful for a change.” The next morning she started her walk. First she saw a farmer who couldn’t seem to get his beans to grow. So she gave him advice and he got right to work. Next she passed boys fishing who couldn’t catch any fish because their rods kept getting stuck in a tree. She gave them advice too and they said thanks and got right to work. Finally she was almost home. On her way down a cat said, “I don’t have a place to stay, my family moved away without me.” So the lady said alright you can come home with me and stay. Night fell she went to sleep. The next day she went for her walk again. She checked to see how the farmer was doing and he said, “O just great all because of you.” “You gave me great advice.” “All my beans grew.” She saw the kids and asked them if they caught any fish yet. They said “Yes thank you so much.” “We caught 12 fish. From then on everybody lived happily ever after. The End.

The farmer woman The woman and the man live on a farm. The man is planting seeds in the garden. The two little boys are fishing in the streem and the old lady is walking down the driveway and right behind her is a black and white cat and down by the river is houses and it looks like the lady is walking to all of the houses down on a little pice of land. In the river they are just sitting thair. I don’t think that any of the house have people in them. I think they it proubly the lady’s house.

What Might Be Happing Once upon a time there was a lady taking a walk down the path. Her dog Skippy was following behind her. Her husband was gardning the vegetables for her. Her boys, John and Brain were fishing by the pond near their house. She was walking toward the ships where her friend Jennifer was there. Jennifer asked her if she wanted to take a ship and cruse along with the ocean. So she said, “Hold on, I’ll be right back.” So she ran all the way back to her house and ran straight toward her husband who was still gardning and raking the soil of the vegetables. She told her husband that she would be back in an hour. Her husband said OK. Then she ran all the way back to the ships where Jennifer was. So her and Jennifer sailed across the ocean and had a picnic on the ship. After a hour passed they came back to the dock and got of there. So she walked home with her dog following and went back into her house and got in her PJ’s and went to sleep!!

The lady is walking Down the Hill with a cat and singing a song. Because she’s happy. it’s nice outside today.

After the death of his wife, Mama Johnson, Papa Johnson decided that he had had enough of taking care of his sons, cleaning the house, and his job as a farmer. So he hired a housekeeper/nanny named Mrs. Tillmonk. As soon as Ben and Mike, Papa Johnson’s sons, saw her, they knew she was not an ordinary person. Everyone who saw Mrs. Tillmonk felt that way. Her chestnut hair, silvered with age, sparkling black eyes, and long velvet green cloak spelled “magic” all over her. Ben and Mike adored her because she was ever such a good cook, never yelled, and was fun to be with. She also liked to walk by the sea where they lived, with her dog, Mincey. Then one day, after staying at the Johnson house for more than 3 years, she decided to leave. Though Ben and Mike pleaded and cried, though Papa Johnson offered to raise her salary, she gathered up her things, called Mincey, went outside, and took one last walk by the sea. She looked back at them with pity and sadness, but shook her head and gazed at the calm sea. The wind was wilder than ever and suddenly it lifted her up, dog and all, up over the ocean until Papa Johnson and Ben and Mike could only see a green dot in the pale blue sky, waving at them. And from far away, they heard Mrs. Tillmore’s voice shout, Goodbye! Goodbye! Don’t cry. I’ll be back soon. You’ll see.

Judges’ comments:
RESPONSE A: Score 3: Details in this short response are organized into a clear narrative with enough focus for a 3. More information would provide the development needed for a higher score.

RESPONSE B: Score 5: Response represents a strong command of written language, particularly in its control of dialogue. Events progress logically from beginning to end. Word choice and development of ideas remain more general than would be found in a 6 paper.

RESPONSE C: Score 2: Response demonstrates an attempt to focus on providing a description of the picture. However, there is a lack of elaboration and apparent lack of connection between the details.

RESPONSE D: Score 4: Narrative has a single focus. Events and details are organized into a clear progression of ideas. Events are adequately elaborated with detail needed to achieve a 4.

RESPONSE E: Score 1: Minimal response focuses on the topic, but has only barely apparent details. More development is needed.

RESPONSE F: Score 6: This is a well-developed, complete response. The writer has demonstrated syntactic and verbal sophistication through vivid word choice and effective variety in sentence structure.

     [Editor's Note: The complete standards are on the New Jersey Department of Education Web site at: www.state.nj.us/education. ]

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