Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
In order to prepare for standardized testing, students need to be prepared for the expectations they will face as they take the state test. When students know what is expected for a high stakes test, they will not only be prepared to take it but also be successful as they can work towards making goals for themselves. Today's lesson focuses on using examples of previous writing samples to understand how they are graded on a standardized test. Using models is a great way for students to see how the scoring is done so they can make goals for themselves as they take the test.
I begin the lesson by passing out and discussing the NJASK Holistic Scoring Rubric with the class. I review what each area of the rubric means and I highlight our discussion by reviewing the word holistic. We discuss how this rubric is used to grade writing samples from their standardized test. Instead of looking at individual areas of writing, the scorers review the piece as a whole.
I then pass out NJASK Samples from past years that the state has released. I placed a symbol or shape on each writing sample to designate it from the other pieces. Students will read each sample and give a score (from 1 to 6) based on the rubric. Students become engaged in this process because they get to judge the writing, and we all know middle-schoolers can be rather judgmental. They use the back of the rubric to write down their scores.
As students are reading, I remind them to take down notes of why they are giving each sample the score they give them. They will need to defend their choices when we discuss and review the actual scores as a class.
Once students read each sample we then review the answers as a class. Another option is to have students working together to score each sample. This can work when time is available and partners are assigned in a way that fosters engagement. Many students can start arguing over scores and the focus off the lesson becomes more about proving a point than analyzing writing. I would much rather them see what each piece needs to improve on rather than what the exact score was.
When students score each piece I have them write their score on the board. As a class we create a chart showing the scores that each piece received. The chart looks like this: Scoring NJASK Samples Chart. We then, as a class, discuss any major outliers. If there are any scores that do not seem to fit with the rest. I have students defend their choices as we are discussing each piece. This allows them to refer back to the samples so they can show their understanding of the writing of the sample.
I then share with the class the scores each piece actually received. I put down a list of each sample's writing score and comments, NJASK Sample Scoring Answers, that I share with the students. I purposely did not include any pieces that earned a six. I wanted this process to be about the writing and not about the score. The next lesson will focus on taking apart two samples that earned a six, the highest grade.
While many students realize that they are tough graders and others disagree with the score earned, that is not what's important with a lesson like this. It does not matter that students grade each piece exactly to what the piece earned. There is also subjectivity in writing. What I found beneficial is that students are able to see examples of writing they will be doing when they take the state test so they can understand what they will need to do.