by Scott Neuffer

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December 18, 2012
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Tougher writing standards

By the seventh grade, students in Douglas County schools will be expected to develop a topic for an informative essay with "relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples."

They will be expected to "organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect," while also demonstrating "command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage, capitalization, punctuation and spelling."

The above guidelines are only three of nine checkpoints on a new rubric for seventh-grade informative writing. On Tuesday, school board members approved new writing rubrics for all secondary grade levels that will align instruction to Common Core State Standards.

The new, more rigorous rubrics will replace existing writing competencies in the 2013-14 school year.

A team of administrators and English teachers began the revision process last spring. This fall, they solicited input on draft forms and then finalized the documents.

"The rubrics prepare students for college level writing by their junior year," said DCSD Director of Curriculum Rommy Cronin. "They're multifaceted, and there are a lot of them."

The rubrics are "recursive," "vertically articulated," and "scaffolded to support the increased rigor." In other words, they grow more complex each year by building on basic principles.

For example, in the informative writing rubric for 11th and 12th grade, students are expected to develop a topic as they would have done in the seventh grade. The difference in guidance is that they develop the topic "thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information."

In matters of organization, a junior is expected to organize ideas, concepts, and information "so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole."

In matters of usage, a junior is expected to write with "precise language, domain-specific vocabulary, and techniques such as a metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic," while also using transitions "to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts."

The rubrics are likewise arduous in narrative, research and argumentative writing. For instance, in the argumentative rubric for 11th and 12th grade, students are expected to use "valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence."

"(They) develop claims and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence from credible sources for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, and concerns, values, and possible biases," the document reads.

With the new rubrics come four grading options for student performance: not assessed, student did not attempt, approaching standards, or meeting standards.

Starting in middle school, writing will now make up 25 percent of a student's semester grade.

Board members asked Cronin if teachers had been struggling with the tougher standards.

"I tell them to take a deep breath," she answered. "Because we're going to hunker down and get this done."

Trustee Teri Jamin argued that writing skills are necessary in most jobs:

"These rubrics are beneficial to our students, whatever track they're on."

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The Record Courier Updated Dec 18, 2012 03:58PM Published Dec 18, 2012 03:57PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.