Since 2016, Maine students in grades 3 through 8 have participated annually in assessment for accountability by taking the eMPower ME test. In 2016 and 2017, students received scores for reading and for writing & language which were then combined to reflect performance of Maine English Language Arts standards. The writing & language portion of the assessment is a selected response (multiple choice) test and measures knowledge about writing.
Students in grades 3 through 8 completed essays as part of their annual State of Maine assessment in 2018. The essay provides an opportunity to measure a student’s ability to compose writing in an on-demand, independent environment. In each grade, students read two short passages of text (stimulus material) then respond to a prompt. Students must use information from both passages to support their response.
The essay is scored using a 4-point rubric assessing 4 dimensions of writing. Each dimension is worth 0-4 points (thus there are 5 columns on the rubric). The zero score point allows the scorer to evaluate each dimension, even when one or more is seriously lacking. Each rubric is developed relative to the mode, or type, of writing reflected by the prompt. The mode of writing measures primarily either Writing Standard #1 (informed opinion at grade 5 or argument at grades 6 and 8) or Writing Standard #2 (expository, informational) types of writing.
- The first dimension evaluated is development and elaboration of ideas. Students demonstrate an understanding of the mode of writing by establishing a claim (W1) or a main idea (W2) then developing the argument or information with specific and relevant information from the stimulus material.
- Organization is the next dimension evaluated and reflects a demonstration of ability to organize a multi-paragraph essay to best support the development and elaboration of ideas.
- Language and vocabulary use is specific to topic, mode and context. Students are expected to maintain a formal style of writing, use language that connects ideas or demonstrates relationship of evidence, and may include vocabulary drawn from the stimulus material.
- Command of conventions is the final dimension and measures a student’s ability to apply the rules of English grammar and conventions.
Students are scored for each dimension so a score of 4444 reflects a strong response that demonstrates grade level standards. Essays are scored as first draft writing which means that they are not necessarily flawless, but they do indicate a strong ability to write.
Some essays are determined to be non-scorable. This means that the work provided does not reflect the criteria outlined in the rubric. No Score papers may:
- Be written in the wrong mode, i.e. the student was prompted to write an evidence-based report but instead wrote a story about the topic. This is not scorable using the mode-specific rubric.
- Be simply a summary of the stimulus material. This is not scorable because a restatement of all or parts of the text do not reflect the elements of the rubric.
- Include significant copying, leaving very little original writing. While students are encouraged to use evidence from the stimulus material, they must still demonstrate an ability to comprehend the material and create an original response. When the essay is primarily copied material, there is not enough student work to evaluate.
- Be too brief to evaluate. The essay is significantly different from a constructed response item. Students are expected to craft a multi-paragraph response.
What can you do to help students write strong essays in grades 6-8?
- Provide students with persistent opportunities to engage with grade level texts, supported with various scaffolding and close-reading strategies.
- Teach students the difference between quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing.
- Quote only what cannot be said another way or needs to be closely associated with the source. Limit the use of quotes in short responses to no more than two.
- Summarize sections of text while reading – margin annotations work well. Use these summaries to craft topic statements for each paragraph in the essay.
- Practice paraphrasing information. This helps to check for understanding and indicates whether a student is able to connect information from across the source materials in a meaningful way.
- Know the difference between a constructed response prompt (in the reading section) which requires only one or two paragraphs and focuses on content without scoring form or format and the essay prompt which should take three or more paragraphs to develop and does score for form and format.
The relationship between reading and writing is critical. A good writing program will include significant attention to grade-level reading as well as development of writing knowledge and skill. Watch Maine DOE for more information and resources to support effective writing development.