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Students’ writing scores jump

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
Across the county, English teachers have something to smile about.
This year, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders in Rowan-Salisbury Schools earned higher writing test scores than last year.
To celebrate their success, dozens of students gathered at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in China Grove on Thursday. These students have given up the lure of sunny afternoons twice a week after school to ó gasp! ó learn more.
That’s the goal, anyway ó to increase test scores. The youngsters, mostly third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from China Grove Elementary, have tested low in the past, said Libby Staton, who runs the tutoring program.
Tutors help the students with math and reading skills. At China Grove Elementary, the program might have paid off.
About 86 percent of fourth-graders there tested at or above grade level on the state writing test. That’s a jump of about 29 percent from last year ó the highest increase among the county’s 20 elementary schools.
But Staton is quick to not take all the credit for student success in China Grove. “It’s everything,” she said. “It’s the school, it’s home, it’s here.”
Throughout the school system, about 53 percent of fourth-graders tested at or above grade level. Last year, that number was 46 percent.
The jump is significant, but 10th-graders fared even better. Their scores jumped 24 percent from last year.
This year, almost 67 percent of 10th-graders tested at or above grade level on the writing test.
Seventh-graders’ scores jumped 4 percent to 54 percent proficient this year.
At China Grove Elementary, teachers spent more time focusing on writing skills, said Jenny Kennerly, the principal there.
“We set aside blocks of time each day that the focus was strictly writing,” Kennerly said.
Students often spent 50 to 60 minutes a day improving their writing skills, she said.
Also, teachers got some extra training about how to help kids become better writers. Teachers worked individually with students to make suggestions. Students would then revise their writing, Kennerly said.
Students also got to read what others were writing. They reviewed their peers’ work, Kennerly said.
And, in regular elementary school fashion, there was ice cream. Students had a party the day before the writing test in March.
“We really made a big deal about it,” Kennerly said of the test.
Dylan Roberts, 10, a third-grader at China Grove, said the extra tutoring at St. Mark’s helped him.
“They let me practice writing a lot,” Roberts said.
The program helped 11-year-old Cierra Hill, too. The China Grove fourth-grader said tutors helped her become a better writer.
“We read together and get individual (attention),” she said. “It’s increasing our vocabulary.”
The school system doesn’t know yet how the writing scores stack up statewide. Last year, comparisons were bleak.
Rowan-Salisbury fourth-graders tested 7.5 percent below the region and 6.7 percent below the state.
Seventh-grade scores were slightly behind the region and state last year, too. But the biggest gap was among 10th-graders, who scored about 9 percentage points below the state number.

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