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Test measures the 'write' skills

Tri-State area students get first crack at SAT essay

Tri-State area students get first crack at SAT essay

March 21, 2005|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Tri-State area students took the new SAT college entrance exam earlier this month, which for the first time included a new 25-minute essay designed to measure writing skills.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, first announced the new essay portion of the exam three years ago with hopes of sending a strong message about the "importance of writing" to schools around the country, board spokeswoman Caren Scoropanos said.

Brandon Brown, a junior at North Hagerstown High School, said Washington County Public Schools' emphasis on writing paid off when he recently took the new SAT. Brown and other classmates said their teachers used a variety of writing exercises to strengthen their skill and confidence as writers. As a result, some said they didn't find the new essay portion of the SAT the least bit intimidating.

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"It wasn't too hard," Brown said. "We've done a lot of writing in school to prepare us. We do a lot of brief constructed responses and extended constructed responses."

Brief constructed responses, or short essays, are used by students to answer test or homework questions, while extended constructed responses are longer essays. Both essay writing styles are taught by Washington County teachers to access a student's reading comprehension and writing ability, said Peggy Pugh, the county's secondary English language arts supervisor.

"I would say around third grade, students begin taking the Maryland state assessment test, which also uses constructive responses," Pugh said.

Under state and local education guidelines, Washington County students are given a formal writing skills test several times a year starting in the sixth grade, Pugh said.

"It allows us to see how individual students are progressing and provides information to adjust instruction" she said. "Teachers are also assessing student writing skills throughout the year during their daily classroom instruction."

In Berkeley County (W.Va.) Schools, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade students are required to take the state's annual writing assessment test.

"We asked questions like, 'Who is your hero and explain why?'" said Donna Miller, director of instruction for Berkeley County Schools.

Unlike multiple choice responses, written explanatory answers allow students to provide informative, descriptive or persuasive arguments, which require a higher level of thinking, Miller said.

The West Virginia Department of Education also encourages elementary and secondary teachers in all subject areas to enhance student writing skills through assignments that require essay responses and written reports.

"It gives us a much better understanding of the depth of a child's knowledge," Miller said.

In Washington County, North Hagerstown High School senior Cally Brandt said her writing skills improved tremendously after she took an advanced English writing course focusing on the mechanics of grammar, sentence structure and organization.

"My language class showed me how to write specific papers, like persuasive papers, research papers and writing a satire paper," she said, "My teacher also stressed getting other people to proof your paper."

Under Pennsylvania law, fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students are given an annual writing skills assessment test, said Eric Michael, Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"We do fairly well and we know that typically good writing skills are tied to good reading skills, Michael said. "They work hand in hand."

Pennsylvania teachers also will use the test's results to identify students at risk for not being able to write a mandatory research paper during their junior year.

"It's a requirement for graduation to successfully complete that project," Michael said, "Students who don't successfully complete the project in their junior year can repeat the project during their senior year."

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