In Feb. 3 Issue
Russell County High School has distinguished itself as one of Kentucky's most consistent top scoring high schools on the on-demand state writing assessment.
In spite of curricular changes administered by teachers in the last 20 years, the on-demand writing scores in many Kentucky high schools continue to plateau demonstrating little overall improvement. In fact, according to the 2007 NAEP writing study, the state's writing scores lay below the nation's public school average. However, some high schools perform very well on this written assessment. Year after year, Russell County High School is one of those schools.
Due to this continued success, RCHS has been chosen to participate in a qualitative research project that is being conducted by Murray State University and will be featured in the publication resulting from the research.
"Since Russell County High School outscored many other schools in the state of Kentucky, I wanted to observe classes led by the instructors who teach students how to respond to on-demand prompts," said Debbie Bell, director of the Purchase Area Writing Project and an English professor at Murray State University. "I'm very interested in gathering successful strategies to help teachers of writing across the Commonwealth."
Bell made her visit to RCHS on November 12 of last year.
Beckie Wade, the school's curriculum specialist, said, "In our school, writing is embedded throughout the curriculum. Every teacher is responsible for integrating writing into instruction in all classes, not just English classes. All of our teachers have had professional development to provide them with the tools they need to help students be proficient writers when they graduate."
Wade continued by saying, "When Ms. Bell came to visit, we went beyond the usual visits she has had to English classrooms. This was her first time to observe writing instruction in a high school agriculture class. Ms. Bell was so excited to see writing as a natural part of the culture of our entire school. I just wanted her to see what a fantastic job all of our teachers are doing with writing instruction with our students."
The efforts by the RCHS students and staff are paying off. With a goal of 100, this year's RCHS seniors earned an index of 93.6, up another 5.5 points from the 2009-10 school year.
The percentage of students scoring at the proficient and distinguished levels is up from 55.3 percent last year to 59 percent this year. Last year's percentage gave Russell County a rank of 33rd out of over 220 high schools in the state. This year's increase of another 3.7 percent has administration hopeful that RCHS will soar even higher in the rankings.
Students were evaluated by a team of scorers from the Kentucky Department of Education after responding to writing prompts in the form of persuasive speech, editorial, persuasive letter or feature article. Writing pieces are judged on content (how well students expressed their purpose and their recognition of the audience to whom they wrote), structure (paragraph organization), and conventions (grammar, spelling, and punctuation).
"The on-demand scores at the high school are evidence that Russell County High School students have internalized the skills necessary for real world writing. The on-demand writing process is just that-communicating in response to a real world situation-on the spot-no peer editing-no teacher feedback and no research. Russell County High School students clearly were equipped with the skills to communicate for the on demand writing assessment to a proficient or above level. These are impressive results for our students and a tribute to the quality of education they have received in the Russell County School District," said Tonya Adams, the school's director of curriculum and instruction.
The high school's participation in the Murray State 'Purchase Area Writing Project' is a very prestigious honor with only four of the top scoring high schools in the state chosen to participate.
"This study will hopefully garner perspicacious insight into the pedagogical phenomena present in those English classrooms that earn high proficient and distinguished scores on the Kentucky state on-demand assessment," Bell said. "The discernable attributes will then be extrapolated and compiled so the information may be disseminated to teachers across the state so that they may replicate the strategies with their own individual classrooms in an effort to increase the on-demand scores for their own particular high schools."
Mary McGowan, an English teacher at RCHS said, "I think the biggest reason our students do so well on the on-demand testing is the amount of practice that they receive in their classes. I start with my sophomores and introduce the four different types of writing to them and work with them on the correct way of answering. Then with the juniors I add to the information, by the time the students are seniors they know what to expect and how to answer the on-demand. You know what they say, 'practice does make you perfect.'"
RCHS Principal Darren Gossage agreed that being chosen as one of four high schools in the state is a great honor. "Being selected as a possible model with strategies for other schools to emulate really says something about the work done at Russell County High School. I am tremendously proud of our students and faculty," he said. "The fact that we are part of a research project on written assessment involving high performing high schools gives us the opportunity showcase our commitment to excellence in education. The continued growth at our school is the result of a structured plan for improvement and team effort."