DeKalb County students in fifth, eighth, and eleventh grades will be taking the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) Writing Assessment this week.
The TCAP Writing Assessment requires students to write a rough draft essay in response to an assigned prompt (topic) within a limited time period. Fifth-grade students are asked to write a narrative essay; eighth-grade students an expository essay; and 11th-grade students a persuasive essay. Historically, the TCAP Writing Assessment has been scored holistically using one rubric across all grade levels. A new scoring instrument is being developed to better accommodate the new design of the 2012-13 prompts.
Several aspects of the test are being changed this year to meet the expectations of the new Common Core Standards. All eighth and eleventh graders will take the test only online. Since these middle school and high school students are testing on line, the test administration can be taken within a window time frame from Feb. 4 - 8. Locally, fifth graders will continue to take the test by paper and pencil on one specific date, Tuesday, February 5 with a makeup day on Wednesday, February 6. "It is changed from being a one day test and a makeup day to a complete week window," said Michelle Burklow, Supervisor of Instruction for Pre-K to 6th grade. "The reason for this change is that grades eight and eleven are going to be testing on the computer. The test is going to be on line. We'll have to move students in and out of computer labs so the state is giving us a one week window to get this completed. Students will be taking the tests, typing the tests into a site that is provided by Measurement Incorporated. It's a secure site. Once the student has typed in his essay, it will be submitted and scored by Measurement Inc. Normally, we test grades five, eight, and eleven. Grades eight and eleven will be computer tested this year. We had an option whether or not we wanted to do paper-pencil or computer tests for the fifth grade. This year we opted to continue with the paper-pencil test for the fifth graders. There are so many changes coming with the writing assessment that we thought too many changes would be very difficult for them as young writers," said Burklow.
The design of the prompts has changed, according to Burklow. "All of these changes are coming from the state due to the fact that we are moving, transitioning to Common Core. The tests this year have changed drastically from what it has been in the past," she said. "Normally students have been given a prompt and they would write to that prompt. Fifth grade would write narratively. Eighth grade would write an explanatory. Eleventh grade would write a persuasive. That is the same for this year. However, there are a few changes to that," said Burklow
Students will now encounter a reading stimulus and prompt that they are required to read before they begin to write. "The state department has looked at the Common Core and some of the things we need to change in order to implement the Common Core state standards. Looking at the English Language Art classes, Reading, Science, and Social Studies classes, there has been some major changes in all of these academic areas to have more of a focus on literacy. These changes have been made across the board in grades three through twelve," said Burklow. "This year as we have trained our English Language Arts teachers, we have also had our Science, Social Studies, and Career Technical teachers at these training sessions too because we know that every teacher is a Reading teacher and the Common Core standards are emphasizing this by bringing literacy into all of our academic areas. Teachers have been using content rich non fiction throughout the year. We started at the very beginning implementing these new changes. Students have now been introduced to a higher percentage of non fiction texts, informational texts. The reason for this change is because this is tied directly to the writing assessment," she said.
A reading stimulus can be a work of fiction or an informational piece. Speeches, poems, charts, graphs, letters, legal decisions, or timelines may also be considered as reading stimulus. The prompt will appear in a text box at the end of the reading stimulus. The students will have to utilize information from the reading stimulus to write their response. In some cases, students may encounter two paired passages. They may even encounter two different types of reading stimulus.
The new prompts have a new time limit of one hour. "Students will now be given an informational text, a stimulus to read prior to answering a prompt. The writing assessment has gone from a thirty five minute period to a sixty minute test where they will be asked to read a passage or passages, analyze informational texts and write to that," said Burklow. "Its very important that students are reading on grade level for this writing assessment. Parents, I want to encourage you. If you have concerns about your child's academics, please contact the teacher. Make an appointment to go see that teacher and working together we will help your child move academically. The rigor that we are moving to is going to require such a partnership between parents and schools. We are moving to preparing these children for college and career readiness," she said.
For the February 2013 Assessment Only:
•Fifth graders will encounter a reading stimulus and a narrative prompt
•Eighth graders will encounter a reading stimulus and an expository prompt
•Eleventh graders will encounter a reading stimulus and a persuasive prompt
In future test administrations, students on any of the tested grade levels may encounter a narrative, expository or persuasive type of prompt.
Burklow urges parents to make sure their children are rested and ready for the writing assessments. "Parents please have your children to school rested. Make sure they have eaten breakfast because we know that students can concentrate much better if they are not hungry. Have them to school on time, relaxed and ready to go," said Burklow.