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 rubric is developed relative to the mode, or type, of writing reflected by the prompt. The mode of writing measures either Writing Standard #1 (opinion, argument) or Writing Standard #2 (expository, informational).
- The first dimension evaluated is development and elaboration of ideas. Students demonstrate an understanding of the mode of writing by establishing an informed opinion (grade 5) or 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 response that demonstrates grade level standards. Essays are scored as first draft writing which means that they are not necessarily flawless.
Some essays are determined to be non-scoreable. This means that the response 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 scoreable using the mode-specific rubric.
- Be simply a summary of the stimulus material. This is not scoreable 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 3rd-5th grade students write stronger essays?
- Provide students with regular opportunities to engage with a variety of short, grade level texts, supported with various scaffolding and close-reading strategies. Texts should include single and paired passages that are both narrative and informational.
- Break the directions and writer’s checklists into strong mini-lessons that support the process of writing both and informational and opinion piece of writing.
- Informational – Writing an introduction
Transitional linking words
Writing a clear conclusion
Providing details from both passages
- Opinion – Topic introduction and stated opinion
Linking words, phrases and clauses
Support of opinion using details from both passages
Develop a clear conclusion.
- Teach students the difference between quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing.
- Use the model of a read aloud to develop rich vocabulary skills that are grade level appropriate.
- 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 multiple 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. Follow Maine DOE Newsroom postings for more information and resources to support effective writing development.