08/09/04 — Putting pen to paper is priority at Fremont STARS

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Putting pen to paper is priority at Fremont STARS

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 9, 2004 1:59 PM

Fremont STARS Elemen-tary School Principal Debbie Ogburn will be the first to say that every test counts.

Concerned about scores on sample tests that were low throughout the county, she will implement several programs at her school designed to improve students' writing.

"Teachers have been brainstorming how to best get the writing scores up," she said. "They really, really care about the children."

From the day school resumed last week, Ms. Ogburn said, there has been an added emphasis placed on writing.

The N.C. Writing Assess-ment, given to students in grades 4, 7 and 10, used to be required as part of the state's accountability program. Students had to obtain a score of 3 or 4 on the essay test in order to be promoted to the next grade.

In recent years, the state changed the way it analyzed the results. With more emphasis placed on the end-of-grade tests in math and reading, the writing test has been relegated to being a field test that serves as a base for future tests.

Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability, said that across the county, last spring's writing scores were down. He said only 36 percent of fourth-graders received a 3 or 4, compared with 44 percent of seventh-graders and 50 percent of 10th-graders.

There were two reasons for the poor results, he said.

"It's a brand new scoring method, and they haven't worked out the system yet," he said. "Secondly, everyone knew it wasn't part of the accountability program and so didn't emphasize the writing part."

Ms. Ogburn said while that may have been true at Fremont STARS, it will no longer be the case.

"We know that's a weakness, but it's an area that we're going to work on," she said. "Whether it's a field test or counts, it's going to count here."

Ms. Ogburn was moved from assistant principal at Greenwood Middle School to Fremont last spring. She said the school held weeks of remediation for students in the spring, and the staff worked several days over the summer to shore up writing skills.

She said that in addition to classroom exercises, this year there will be writing workshops for staff and students, as well as parents.

Volunteers will be solicited for the school's "Read to Succeed" program, to read with children individually or to a class.

Ms. Ogburn said she is also preparing to obtain "Study Island," a computer program that focuses on material for the end-of-grade tests.

"It will be on the school computer, and students can also access it wherever they are," she said.

Competitions will be planned for those who use the program the most. And the computer program will be available for students who arrive to school early, rather than have them sit idle in the auditorium, she said.

She is particularly excited, though, about an idea she believes will help return the school to its original mission.

"Because it's 'STARS' -- School of Technology, Arts, Reading, and Success," she said, "we're going to teach the curriculum through the arts."

She said that with the aid of support staff, such as teachers in the areas of computer, art, music, and physical education, the school will hold a production at the end of each nine weeks.

The fourth and fifth grades will be responsible for the first one, with second and third grader leading the production at the end of the second nine weeks, and kindergarten and first grades handling the third one.

"Children sign up and every group does something, from publicity to performance, speaking parts and props," she said.

The performances will be presented during school, with an evening performance for the public.