Going Different Directions Fox Valley Reading, Writing Scores Take Separate Courses on State IGAP Tests

By Noble, Sean; Keeshan, Charles | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 19, 1997 | Go to article overview

Going Different Directions Fox Valley Reading, Writing Scores Take Separate Courses on State IGAP Tests


Noble, Sean, Keeshan, Charles, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Sean Noble and Charles Keeshan Daily Herald Staff Writers

Test results confirmed Fox Valley educators' fears this fall: another year of sinking reading marks on Illinois Goal Assessment Program exams.

Yet 1996-97 writing scores turned a better direction, buoying teachers' spirits somewhat.

Writing results were up across the board in Elgin Area Unit District 46, if slightly below state averages at three of the four grade levels tested. Scores similarly rose in three grade levels each at Dundee Area Unit District 300 and Burlington Central Unit District 301 - and, in the latter case, outpaced rising Illinois averages.

Such a report might seem strange to those who consider writing the flip-side of reading, who believe that the two subjects are bound logically together.

But local educators cited several possible reasons for the diverging scores, some in classroom instruction and others in the exams' construction.

Many area schools began pouring extra resources into writing instruction several years ago, before poor reading marks gave that subject the statewide prominence it has now.

At Meadowdale Elementary School in Carpentersville, the focus took the form of a new spelling program that emphasized the 1,800-most-used words in the English language. Students concentrated on learning the words, then on using them properly in writing.

"They make that transference, so they score better in areas like grammar and spelling," said Meadowdale Principal Craig Sundstedt. The school's writing marks seem to reflect the extra effort: at the third-grade level, they rose more than a full point - to 17 on a scale of 6-32 - in tests taken last spring.

District 46 in 1990 started offering instructors extra courses in the teaching of "process writing," the organization of thoughts and ideas into a logical fashion.

Two-thirds of the system's grade-school teachers already have taken at least one of the courses, said curriculum Director Sue Bernardi. That likely has trickled down into the classroom and into writing marks on standardized tests.

At the same time, she acknowledged, the IGAP writing tests are more "coachable" than their reading counterparts. They primarily assess students' skills in the organization of narrative, expository and persuasive paragraphs, each of which follows a specific structure.

Mary Hausner, who coordinates language arts instruction for District 46, said IGAP reading tests seem more subjective. They ask that test-takers "pull out the author's meaning of a text," she said - and students are told that more than one answer could be correct.

That makes IGAP's reading results suspect from the get-go, said Bill Hoecker, superintendent of District 301.

"Two plus two is four. It's always going to be four," he said of math tests. But exams that allow multiple correct answers simply add to some students' confusion or test anxiety, he said. …

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