Students in Bulloch County — and across the state — don’t have much of a problem passing the Georgia High School Writing Test.
The statewide passing rate on the exam was 94.9 percent on the first try this fall, a 2 percentage point improvement from last year.
Every public high school student in the state must pass the writing test, among other requirements, to graduate. It is given to 11th-graders in the fall.
“This is yet another example of how more and more Georgia students are meeting the higher expectations we have set for them,” State School Superintendent John Barge said in a news release. “Writing is a critical skill in every career, and these scores show that more of Georgia’s students are being prepared for success after high school.”
Locally, the trend is similar. The Bulloch County school system’s pass rate climbed 0.9 percentage point to 94.6 percent, and its mean scale score rose 1.6 points to 225.4 points.
Southeast Bulloch High School beat the state average with a 96.9 percent passing rate, up 3.8 percentage points from 2011.
Statesboro High School had Bulloch County’s highest mean scale score, 225.9 points, up 2.7 points from last year. On the scale, 100-199 points is designated “does not meet,” meaning the student performed below grade-level expectations; 200-249 means the student meets the standard; and 250 or more points means the student exceeds the benchmark.
SHS uses a diagnostic program called WriteScore. The program breaks down scores on diagnostic writing tests into four domains, allowing teachers to focus on specific gaps in student skills and aids in planning as they strive to integrate writing into all coursework.
“We began using WriteScore three years ago,” Principal Marty Waters said in a school district news release. “We are now charting our students' progress beginning with the Eighth Grade Writing Test. Using WriteScore benchmark data, and GHSWT results, we can determine if there is a pattern and provide targeted interventions beginning in the ninth grade.”
Portal Middle High School also saw its pass rate improve, by 1.7 percentage points to 94.1 percent. Its mean scale score did drop slightly, by 0.8 point to 222, but that’s still within striking distance of the state’s mean scale score of 226, and well within the passing range.
Portal Principal Shawn Harralson attributes his students’ success to his English/language arts team.
“Two years ago, our English teachers began meeting each August to create writing action plans for sixth through 12th grades,” he said. “They target specific grade levels and set goals to cross curriculums and have teachers of other subjects incorporate specific writing formats into their daily instruction as well.”
One school that bucked the trend was Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology, a public school that is not run by the Bulloch County school system. After posting a 93.8 percent passing rate and a 222.9 mean scale score in 2011, those numbers dropped this year to 78.9 percent passing and a 211.5 mean scale score.
However, CCAT has the smallest test-taking population – only 16 students in 2011 and 19 in 2012 – compared with 51 this year at Portal, 159 at Southeast Bulloch and 268 at Statesboro. When test-taking populations are smaller, it is common to have large swings from year to year.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, writing is an important part of the statewide curriculum. Writing assessments are administered in third, fifth, eighth and 11th grades. The Georgia High School Writing Test assesses four areas: ideas, organization, style and conventions.
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.