Improving Student Writing with ERB’s Writing Solutions
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, a PreK - Grade 12, co-ed, independent school in San Juan Capistrano, CA, had plenty of data. What the school needed was a plan to drill down into what the data was really saying. Today, their deep dive into their data is changing the way St. Margaret’s students are writing and thinking.
Executive Director, Writing Program
St. Margaret's Episcopal School
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School and WrAP
In fall 2011, St. Margaret’s began using ERB’s WrAP (Writing Assessment Program), part of ERB’s comprehensive writing solutions. Created for writers of all abilities, WrAP authentically assesses student writing for Grades 3 - 12, and offers comparative data that helps you see how students at your school measure up to students in the same grade level at other independent, suburban, and international schools.
St. Margaret’s first WrAP results showed the school what it expected to learn. So, the school did what many administrators do with data: patted themselves on the back, put the WrAP results in a drawer, and moved on.
In fall 2012, they administered the WrAP again, expecting the same results. This time, Grades 4 and 5 were below the independent school norms for student writing.
It was time to dig deep into the new ERB data to figure out how to use it effectively for teacher and student growth. St. Margaret’s decided to put the analysis in the hands of its experts: its English Department faculty, which conducted its own validity assessment of the WrAP rubric.
Getting to the heart of score variances
Working closely with ERB Consultant Sarah Savage, St. Margaret’s conducted its own reliability assessment to examine the school’s year-to-year variance in test scores. Two different readers on its English faculty read and scored WrAP writing samples from other schools (WrAP scores and school information had been removed for this exercise).
Once again, St. Margaret’s determined that its test scores had a very close rate of reliability. The next step? Hone in on Grades 5 - 7 where St. Margaret’s students did well on WrAP and examine the six rubric categories of:
- Overall Development
- Sentence Structure
- Word Choice
“We learned that there was one category where our students were low consistently: Overall Development,” Graham explains. “Now we had taken the scalpel and figured out what we needed to do.”
The next step was reviewing, by grade level, WrAP anchor sets with the many annotated exemplary essays included in each. “I am a big fan of exemplar papers,” Graham notes. “Often students don’t have a sense of ‘here I am but where am I going?’ The tool is very formative.”
St. Margaret’s faculty then worked with individual students and in small groups on specific areas, not “teaching to the test,” but teaching to the writing skill(s). Using WrAP anchor sets, students better understand why they received a certain grade. “The sets help us with learning progression, current development, and areas for growth,” Graham explains. “We can show stages of a student’s writing for a certain trait or holistically.”
Creating stronger writers – and eclipsing the ERB norm group
The result? The school’s WrAP scores rose to where St. Margaret’s wanted them to be, a trend that has continued. In fact, St. Margaret’s has eclipsed ERB's Independent Norm group. But more importantly, especially for today’s digital native, adept at communicating in texts and emojis, St. Margaret's students learned to write a well-constructed paragraph and a longer-form essay—a critical component of success in grade school, college, and in life. ERB’s writing programs are designed to help teachers guide students on their essential journeys as authors. And the first step, as St. Margaret’s learned, is to gather and understand the data.
St. Margaret’s recommendations to get the most out of WrAP
- Administer the assessment in the spring and get scores in July for summer analysis and share with teachers as they prepare for their new students. Or administer WrAP in the fall and use the data throughout the year alongside resources found in WRIIT (Writing Resource for Insight, Interpretation, and Teaching).
- Match the chosen WrAP prompt genre to the genre taught that year in the class to reinforce writing concepts.
- Have department heads and administrators review the prompt choices to determine the best match for the school’s program and learning objectives.
How WrAP works
Consistent with today’s rigorous standards and college and career expectations, WrAP offers two types of performance tasks. Stimulus-based prompts are text-based, asking students to read, analyze, and apply what they have read. Non-stimulus prompts are shorter and ask the student to pull from their own experiences. Both engage the student to develop a robust and thoughtful response.
Administrators have a choice of many age-appropriate prompts in one of three genres: Narrative; Argument/Opinion; and/or Informative, all with pre-writing and editing and revising suggestions included. In each case, students have time to read, reflect, write, and revise. Taken over a two-day period, WrAP parallels real-life student writing. On Day One, students read, think, and write the first draft of their essay. On Day Two, students revise, edit, and complete their final draft.
Most writing tests take place on one day only. But WrAP mirrors what happens in the classroom where students are asked to read, reflect upon a topic, write, and revise. Decades of research on the writing process all speak to revise, revise, revise. Writing well always involves revision and is necessary to meet expectations for written work in college and career.
WrAP’s unique scoring and reporting: the difference is in the details
WrAP is scored analytically by skilled educators and assessment experts using a carefully researched, six-trait, six-point rubric. Each student’s writing can also be compared to other students who addressed a similar prompt in the same genre at the same grade level and to other independent, suburban, and international schools.
What else is truly unique? WrAP’s Individual Student Report (ISR) contains direct links to annotated and scored, real-life writing samples. The WrAP ISR also allows the teacher to “go up the ladder” by score point. This makes goal-setting easy and relevant and serves as a roadmap for teachers to create differentiated instruction for a classroom of writers of various levels.
This report also allows the teacher to immediately access WRIIT (Writing Resource for Insight, Interpretation, and Teaching), a library of related resources for teachers to use anytime. “Any program worth its salt has a learning progression,” notes Appleton. “Ours shows what level of achievement a student is showing within the grade and samples of student writing for that grade and writing skill.”
With these annotated comments—and reliable, consistent scoring with fixed standards of performance—a student can clearly “see” what great writing looks like. Being able to see examples of what improvement and next-steps look like, as well as hear the teacher’s explanations and goals, works best!
- Students’ proficiency and confidence in specific skill areas increases.
- Students’ articulation of writing skills, techniques, and areas of mastery expands.
- Teachers spend more time teaching and less time grading as ERB’s outside experts do the analytical scoring.
- Based on WrAP ’s authentic classroom snapshot, teachers can create systematic instructional plans for specific skills on which each student, small group, or class can work.
- Teacher collaboration improves with WrAP’s clearly defined skills and consistent measurements. Teachers across grades can see how a student is progressing and exactly which skills need improving which makes for a seamless transition.
- Flexible assessment administration with online and paper testing is offered in fall or spring or twice an academic year.
- Reports are ready in three weeks upon receiving completed WrAP essays.
Wrapping up student writing improvement with WrAP, WRIIT, and WPP
WrAP is one of three ERB writing tools, which include WRIIT (Writing Resource for Insight, Interpretation, and Teaching), an online companion resource to WrAP, and the WPP (Writing Practice Program) that is designed to provide a personalized, online platform for on-demand writing practice. As part of a research-based, expert-vetted writing program, WrAP, WRIIT, and WPP give teachers and students access to a host of writing resources to improve writing.
Created in 2016 to complement WrAP, WRIIT is an online, 24/7 teacher library that provides a wealth of writing resources including hundreds of writing samples for Grades 3 - 12 that can be used in the classroom. WRIIT is a key strategy in St. Margaret’s success.
“WRIIT is a resource trove for us,” Graham explains. “We use it every day.”
Before taking WrAP, St. Margaret’s students look at their prior year’s score and an exemplar paper chosen from the WRIIT library (new students get a WRIIT anchor paper.) They self-score, which helps students understand areas for growth.
For an in-depth look at the importance of student writing, read ERB’s Preparing Students for the Future: A Roadmap to Improve Writing as a Key to Success. Or join your colleagues at the 2018 ERB Annual Conference in Nashville, TN from October 24-26, 2018.