Writing tests break new ground

The National Assessment of Educational Progress on Friday released the result of its first tests given entirely on computer, writing assessments taken by a national sample of eighth-graders and 12th-graders in 2011.

Testing illustrationThe results showed that about 27 percent of students in both grades scored at or above “proficient” and about 80 percent performed at the “basic” level or higher.

The tests, given to 24,600 eighth-graders and 28,900 high school seniors in both public and private schools, scored students as basic, proficient or advanced. The average scale score for both grades was 150 out of 300.

Test results were not broken down by state, so scores for Colorado students were not available.

Because of the new format, the results can’t be compared to previous pen-and-pencil NAEP writing tests.

“Only a quarter of the nation’s students are scoring where we want them to,” said Susan Pimentel, an education consultant who serves on the NAEP board. Although the results can’t be directly compared to past tests, she said, “What is interesting is that the 2011 data show the same patterns (as) paper and pencil tests” in such areas as achievement gaps. “The gender gap – it is stark.”

For instance, test results found the percentage of eighth-grade girls scoring proficient or above was twice the percentage of boys. “Boys are lagging behind girls substantially,” she noted.

During a live webinar, Pimentel and other experts stressed the promise of electronic testing and the importance of what Pimentel called “an historic event.”

Arthur Applebee, an expert in language education from the State University of New York campus in Albany, noted, “The students were clearly ready. … People were worried that students weren’t ready, but those worries were wrong.”

Commenting on whether there is a digital divide between students based on family income, Applebee said, “The short answer seems to be no. … The computer format doesn’t seem to penalize one group or another.” Test results showed the achievement gaps are similar for paper test and computer assessments, he said.

Beverly Chin, director of the English teaching program at the University of Montana, said the tests “highlight the importance of integrating computers into writing instruction.”

In Colorado

Colorado’s current testing system requires annual separate writing tests in grades three through 10.

TCAP test results for 2012, released last month, showed 54 percent of students are writing at grade level, a marginal decline from 2011.

Results for only Colorado eighth-graders have been broken out on two prior NAEP writing tests, in 1998 and in 2007. The 1998 Colorado students scored as levels about the same as the nation; in 2007, state scores were slightly higher.

NAEP, often called the “nation’s report card,” tests on a variety of subjects at different time intervals. Most tests are given to representative samples of fourth-graders and eighth- graders. State-by-state results are broken out for some tests but not others. Check this NAEP page for state results. Click Colorado on the U.S. map and then scroll down to see results over the years.

Many states don’t test writing separately but rather include it in overall English tests. There have been attempts to eliminate writing tests in Colorado to save money, but those have been rebuffed in the legislature.

The future of separate writing tests is unclear. The TCAP tests are transitional, and for now it appears Colorado will move in two or three years to multistate tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing consortium. That group is creating English and math tests based on the Common Core Standards, which Colorado has adopted.

Colorado probably will have to develop its own tests in science, which is currently tested; in social studies, which the State Board of Education wants to add; and possibly in writing.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”