Greenfield — With a third of Greenfield's students working below grade level in language arts, based on statewide testing, a new computerized writing program will be introduced this fall infusing writing into all subjects.
"Research shows that when kids write more, they get better," said Patrice Ball, director of curriculum and assessment for grades six to 12.
Better writing is not only essential for higher test scores, it's essential for students' future, Ball said. A Harvard University researcher pegged communication as one of the seven skills that will be needed for survival in the 21st century working world, she said.
The new computer program called My Access will seek to enhance writing skills not only through more writing but by having students write in real-world situations, said Melinda Cunningham, who will do the initial teacher training in the new program.
Through the program, teachers will be able to see the progress of each student and of the class as a whole, she said.
The program will be instituted in the middle and high schools, and more than half the teachers at those levels have signed up for My Access training. The schools have other writing initiatives as well.
Although the new program will enhance teacher accountability, it will not be used in any punitive way, Ball said.
"This is one tool, we have others," to teach writing, she said.
School Board President Cathy Walsh applauded the program as likely to enhance scores on the soon-to-be-computerized standardized tests, partly because of all the computer practice it offers. It should take away stumbling blocks resulting from the mechanics of the computerized testing, she said.
Walsh added that students at Brookfield Academy, who consistently have high scores, regularly practice taking tests such as the ACT on the computer so nothing about the testing mechanics surprises them.
"This will do the same," she said.
It also will motivate students to better writing, Cunningham said. Because teachers give immediate feedback on writing assignments, students want to make their essays better. That's different from what happens most of the time, when students tend to hand in their essays and feel they are done with them, she said. The guidance they get from teachers in My Access motivates them to improve their essays.
The new program also will enable teachers to challenge more advanced students while giving struggling students the help they need, Ball said. Parents have been seeking that kind of flexibility.
"In school surveys, parents wanted assurance that students are challenged appropriately," Ball said. "We want to assure that it's not a one size fits all."
School officials also see parents being more involved in their children's progress because they will be able to enter the system to see how their children are doing on their assignments.
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