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V.I. EIGHTH GRADERS SCORE LOW IN WRITING SKILLS

While test scores show junior high school students on the mainland are lacking in writing skills, their counterparts here in the territory's public schools are even less proficient.
According to a National Assessment of Educational Progress writing test report, 1 percent of 614 public school students in the Virgin Islands tested at the "advanced" writing skills level. Eight percent tested at the "proficient" level, 53 percent at the "basic" level, and 39 percent below the "basic" level.
V.I. students were on par with students nationwide in that only 1 percent tested as "advanced" writers. But at least 25 percent of students on the mainland scored at the "proficient" level, compared to the territory’s 8 percent.
The writing test was given to eighth-grade students at the five public middle and junior high schools on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John in February 1998, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said. Thirty-nine other states and jurisdictions participated in the testing.
"While the 1998 writing test scores for eighth graders are very disappointing, this is the first time that the Virgin Islands has participated in this instrument," Simmonds said, adding that the results will serve as a baseline for future tests. "There is no place for our students to go but up," she said.
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Texas were among the states with the highest scores.
Along with the Virgin Islands, the lowest performers were Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and the District of Columbia.
"There is a direct correlation between those states like Connecticut, which placed first in the nation again, and the quality of the instruction received by students," Simmonds said.
The "basic" achievement level is described as at least a partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for proficient work at each grade level. A "proficient" level is defined as solid academic performance and competence on challenging subject matter. The "advanced" level signifies superior performance.
Glen Smith, president of the St. Thomas-St. John chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the territory’s education system has taken some steps recently in establishing writing programs. But more must be done in the home by parents, he said.
Involvement in the home was cited as a factor in higher NAEP writing test scores nationwide. Students who had access to newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias and books outside of school tended to perform better on the test.
"We need help from parents," Smith said, suggesting that adults have their children keep daily journals. This helps the youngsters "develop their writing skills and critical thinking skills," he said.
Simmonds said that a national survey found that 73 percent of public school teachers reported that they taught reading and writing as opposed to 25 percent of teachers in the Virgin Islands.
"The Department of Education is involved with several initiatives including the development of standards by which instruction of students will be guided," Simmonds said. "Tied to those standards is the issue of accountability. We will hold teachers accountable for the academic success of their students."
NAEP testing in science and math is scheduled for February 2000 for students in the fourth and eighth grades. For more information on test results, click here.

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