Elementary students take writing test

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Fifth-graders at Shelby Elementary School wrote letters to an activated member of the U.S. Navy as part of their preparation for a state-mandated accountability test.

The letters were just one of many activities coordinated by school administrators to assure that students were prepared for the Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing, which was held yesterday.

The students in Lisa Carden’s fifth grade class have been writing to Chief Petty Officer George Farrington on board the USS Barry, a naval destroyer.

&uot;We wanted to give them some authentic purposes to write,&uot; said Beth Fuller, reading coach at Shelby Elementary. &uot;We don’t want to push them so hard that writing is something they hate. We want to give them as many ways to use writing as we can.&uot;

Carden said the students are learning valuable lessons from the exchange, while at the same time strengthening their writing skills.

&uot;We’re trying to make their writing more authentic and help them understand that writing is important in their lives,&uot; Carden said.

Shelby Elementary School came just short of passing the accountability test last year, placing the school on &uot;academic watch.&uot;

According to state guidelines, 20 percent of students tested in grade five must meet or exceed writing standards in order to be cleared by the state Board of Education.

Shelby Elementary was one of four Shelby County elementary schools placed on academic watch last year including Elvin Hill Elementary, Vincent Elementary and Wilsonville Elementary.

Shelby Elementary had 18.6 percent meet state standards for grade five; Elvin Hill Elementary had 8.4 percent; Vincent Elementary had 13.64 percent; and Wilsonville Elementary had 3.85 percent.

Vincent Middle School and Shelby County High School were also placed on watch for failing to meet state academic standards.

&uot;It was like getting a public beating when those scores came out,&uot; Fuller said. &uot;I cried for two weeks.&uot;

Since then Shelby Elementary has taken many steps to assure their students were prepared for the Feb. 25 test.

The assessment lasts about an hour and requires students to produce a descriptive, narrative or expository work based on randomly assigned prompts.

In order to better equip their students, Shelby Elementary administrators provided additional instruction to incorporate writing into every subject.

&uot;They write every day,&uot; Fuller said. &uot;They have writing homework during the week.&uot;

The students have written geometry books for their math studies and even produced separate works for the Shelby County Young Authors Conference scheduled for March at the University of Montevallo.

&uot;This is a whole school commitment. If you walk up and down the halls, you can see examples of writing everywhere,&uot; Fuller said.

While principal Karen Mitchell said failing to meet the required 20 percent last year was a disappointment, she said the school did provide positive instruction not reflected by the sub-standard score.

&uot;They saw writing as a life-long task,&uot; Mitchell said. &uot;We feel good about that. We know that we did some good things last year.&uot;

Fuller added that passing the accountability test is critical to the school’s mission, however she said a high test score is not the only goal.

&uot;Their lifelong use of writing is more important &045; that supercedes any score.&uot;

With an increased emphasis on writing in both the classroom and administration, students and teachers at Shelby Elementary are confident they will pass the test this year.

&uot;We have faith we are going to pull it off,&uot; Mitchell said. &uot;We’ve worked very hard.&uot;

School administrators said they hope to learn the results of the test by the end of April or May