A report released by the Nebraska Department of Education showed Beatrice Public Schools eighth and 11th graders fell behind their peers on new statewide writing tests.
The reports, released earlier this week, reflect increased writing standards and a new testing method in those grades for 2012.
“A new, more rigorous writing process was introduced to students in grades 8 and 11,” the press release states. “In addition to the newly revised writing standards, the writing process became more ‘college and career ready.’”
Students in grades eight and 11 were required to complete the writing test on a computer in an “on demand” setting rather than the traditional two-day handwritten essay. A scoring rubric compiled for the test also included higher expectations in areas of content, organization, word choice and writing mechanics, the press release said.
Fourth-graders completed the test in a two-day, handwritten method used by the state since 2001. The increased test standards will be applied to fourth-grade NeSA-W testing in 2013.
“Districts for the first time will receive specific feedback in the areas where writing instruction and student performance needs improvement,” the release stated.
Under the new testing methods and scoring, however, BPS eighth and 11th graders saw a dip in performance, something director of curriculum and assessment Summer Stephens said the district will use as a baseline for future tests.
The performance report showed 59 percent of Beatrice Middle School eighth-graders met or exceeded the new writing standards, below the state average 63 percent of students who showed proficiency.
Fifty-one percent of high school juniors fell below standards on the 2012 test. The report shows 63 percent of Nebraska 11th graders met or exceeded the new standards.
“We did see a drop in our scores as did many locations,” Stephens said, adding the scores would become the district’s new baseline result for future tests. “We would like to say we had something to compare it to, but we don’t.”
Stephens said BPS will refocus its efforts on teaching writing in all areas.
“Things we’ve been doing are not the wrong things, we just have to focus a little bit,” she said. “We’re going to raise our expectations of what we do in the classroom.”
“Our student work probably looks similar to how it’s always looked, but now the bar has raised, it may not reach new standard,” Stephens said.
BPS will work to train all staff more thoroughly in writing conventions measured on the state tests, she said.
District fourth-graders improved on the state tests this year, NDE reported, under the old testing conventions. Nearly 93 percent of students were proficient in writing.
“That 93 percent proficiency is much higher than it has been for us,” Stephens said.
With fourth-graders moving to the new state tests next year, Stephens said BPS could expect a dip in scores.
“There could be a dip next year in fourth-grade, but we will be proactive with strategies to use the new rubric and standards with students,” Stephens said. “We want them doing as much writing as they can so they feel comfortable with the expectations.”