How do you know that your students are effective communicators?
Do you measure communication? Do you use writing assessments for that purpose? If so, what are those writing assessments? How do you know that your students have made growth in writing?
Those questions and their answers have been responsible for district-wide writing assessments for over ten years in a local district. Currently, narrative writing at third, and persuasive letters at eighth and tenth grade are assessed with a Six Traits rubric.
The work in this district = 900+ student papers that are all read by at least two scorers: teachers, administrators, university students, community members, retired teachers, and AEA staff. Over three days, approximately 100 scorers (30-35 each day) are greeted by the superintendent of schools for a welcome that includes history, data and purpose for the assessment. Professional development includes increasing knowledge of effective writing instruction, the writing process and the Six Traits before the group begins to look at the rubric and anchor papers. Each day the scorers must calibrate because that unique group has never been convened before. “What qualities of the rubric did the NWREL scorers see?” dominates the conversations. Confidence in the use of the rubric and identifying the traits increases with practice and even a “happy dance” may occur as participants match the NWREL anchor scores. And then (drum roll, please) the scoring begins . . .
The goal: adjacent scores. What does that mean? If Joe scores a trait a 3 and Suzie scores a 4, that is adjacent. If that “adjacency” has occurred for all six traits, the scoring for that paper is over. But if Joe scores a 3 and Suzie scores a 5, the paper will be reread by a third reader for that trait (or traits). If the third reader does not agree exactly with Joe’s 3 or Suzie’s 5, and believes that trait is a 4, the three readers will conference with the paper and the rubric and discuss their thinking. Imagine, teachers and others, spending time talking about student writing because students are counting on feedback about their writing!
Wow! Annual scoring of student writing at three grades. Sound easy?
The support staff prep and post work for scoring writing from three grades of students is phenomenal. The “behind the scenes” orchestration involves year round work! Winter scoring “work” begins in September when the packets with prompts, draft writing paper, and final copy writing paper are assembled for each classroom at grades 3, 8, and 10. Maintaining the anonymity of students and teachers involves the use of codes. Recruiting scorers begins. Later, students write and teachers return papers to central office where packets of five papers are assembled with a quick scan of every page of student writing to remove any possible student identification. These packets are readied for the scorers. Reminders to scorers about plans in the face of adverse winter weather, ordering food and snacks for scoring days, and packing up all the materials are just a few of the tasks that precede the scoring.
During scoring days, basic work schedules for key support staff members are put on hold. Checking scorer registration, last minute substitutes, phone calls to absent scorers are just a few of the early morning tasks after the materials for the day are set out. Checking the details for the next day also encompass some of the morning. With luck, there is some office time before lunch. But the entire afternoon is dedicated to routing scoring packets to readers, collecting and matching score sheets, recording final scores, noting 3rd reader or conference needs and meeting the needs of scorers. Busy, busy days!
But the work is not yet done! After the scoring days, data entry (six scores for every student paper) becomes the next task. Scores are compiled for district, building, grade level (dept.) and teacher totals. Papers are returned to teachers for February parent-teacher conferences. Notes are made about the work and filed in preparation for the next round. And then the process of scheduling for the next year begins.
I work with a small portion of this work, co-facilitator for the scoring days. I am always amazed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the scorers who are now on the main stage. They are conscientious about “getting the work done right” and are also eager to learn. Classroom teachers and administrators often find a gem to add to their instructional repertoire. Many first-time scorers are anxious about this responsibility. Other scorers have literally scored for at least ten years. It might be easy for them to become blase about their task, but they remain committed to finding a common language to describe the qualities of writing that they see!
Congratulations on a scoring job well done!
Good luck with continued instruction!
Will there be changes in the future? Sure! With implementation of the Iowa Core, assessments will inevitably change. Will SBAC be used to assess writing? Will there be a different writing assessment? A planful decision will be made as more information becomes available!
Are you assessing writing? Do you have experience with district-wide writing conversations? What is/ was your role? I would love to hear about your experiences!