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N.C. writing scores on par with national average

Staff report
The writing scores of North Carolinaís eighth-graders were on par with the national average, and 87 percent of the students performed at the basic level or better on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to results released Thurday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The scores were presented at the April meeting of the N.C. Board of Education. At the same time, studentsí writing scores decreased when compared with results from 2002, the last time the national test was given.
NAEP is often referred to as ěThe Nationís Report Cardî because it is the only common assessment used by all states.
The most recent administration of the test is the third time that NAEP has measured writing, in 1998, 2002 and 2007. In 1998 and 2002, fourth- and eighth-graders were tested; in 2007, NAEP tested only eighth-graders. Twelfth-grade results are available at the national level only for each of the three years.
North Carolinaís performance in 2002 placed it among the top performing states in the nation. While the 2007 performance is lower than five years earlier, it demonstrates an improvement over the stateís 1998 performance.
In 2007, North Carolinaís overall average scale score of 153 was not significantly different from that of students across the nation, 154. North Carolinaís scale score did drop from 157 in 2002. Of the 39 states and jurisdictions that participated in the writing assessment in both 2007 and 2002, average writing scores increased for 19 states.
In 1998, North Carolinaís average scale score was 150.
In general, North Carolina students performing at the 50th percentile or below maintained their performance level from 2002 to 2007, while students at the 75th or 90th percentile lost ground. Students at the 50th percentile decreased four points during this period, but this change was not statistically significant, according to the NAEP report.
Students taking the NAEP writing assessment are given two, 25-minute writing tasks, and studentsí essays are evaluated as first drafts in recognition of the short timeframe involved. A sample of students in each participating state takes the assessment. Because it is given to a sample of students, district or school-level results are not available, with the exception of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools participate in the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment, which in 2007 included 11 major urban school districts in the nation. For this reason, Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the only North Carolina school district for which there is a district average NAEP score. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, with a scale score of 155, outperformed all of the TUDA districts and performed statistically the same as the nation and as North Carolina. Charlotte-Mecklenburg did not participate in the 2002 TUDA, so there is not a comparison score. In addition to Charlotte, TUDA districts include Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, District of Columbia, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego.
While it is difficult to know precise causes of student test score fluctuations, some education leaders are concerned that the narrow goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law, with its consistent focus on helping boost students to grade level performance, may provide fewer incentives for local educators to focus as much on students who are performing solidly on grade level.
ěWe know that local educators are very focused on getting more students to the minimum grade level or proficient level, and that is a very worthwhile goal,î said State Superintendent June Atkinson. ěAt the same time, I am concerned that students who already have solid test scores may not be getting the extra push they need.î
North Carolina has consistently supported writing instruction and assessment, encouraging teachers to teach writing across the curriculum subjects. The state has had its own writing assessment in place for many years, but its place in the stateís accountability model has varied.

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