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Notes for
19 Samples of Fourth Graders' Writing
from the 
The 2004 North Carolina Writing Assessment 
Grades 4, 7, and 10 Trainer Manual 
(Summer, 2004)

Anthem
These samples were downloaded from the North Carolina Department of Education site at http://www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/testing/writing/ (file name: trainingmanual2004.pdf) on January 25, 2005. This file will probably be replaced with newer versions in the future, and I have decided against presenting the original scans here. I can, however, send the document to anyone who wants to verify my transcriptions of the students' writing.
     I would like to thank the North Carolina Department of Education for replying so quickly to my request to use these samples on this site. Their permission does not reflect an endorsement of the KISS Approach.

      As I understand it, samples G1 to G11 are used for discussion and training, and then samples TA-1 to TA-8 are used for practice and discussion. In the table below, the "Original" column presents my transcription of the students' writing and the accompanying evaluation notes on "Content" and "Conventions." (See below.) The originals have names blanked out, but because we are interested, among other things, in words per main clause, I have inserted names in the blanks (in brackets). In the exercise versions, these false names are kept without the brackets. The "C / C" column states the evaluation results. Errors in the originals have been corrected for the documents in the "Exercise" column so that you can print these to use as analysis exercises. (You may, by the way, want to copy the transcriptions of the students' writing in the originals, minus the evaluators' comments, and use them as exercises in which your students evaluate and correct the originals.

Click here for the prompt for this writing assessment.

Original C / C TW
/TMC
TSC
/TMC
Inj(DO)
/TMC
Exercise A Key Stats
Average 9.9 .50 .04  Click here for explanation.
G01 1 / 0 55/6=9.2 1/6=.17 0 G01Ex G01AK  
G02 1 / 1 138/17=8.1 3/17=.18 0 G02Ex G02AK  
G03 1 / 0 145/16=9.1 9/16=.56 0 G03Ex G03AK  
G04 2 / 2 143/14=10.2 11/14=.79 1/14= .07 G04Ex G04AK  
G05 2 / 1 297/38=7.8 9/38=.24 1/38=.03 G05Ex G05AK  
G06 2 / 2 317/36=8.8 26/36=.72 9/36=.25 G06Ex G06AK  
G07 3 / 2 238/26=9.2 15/26=.58 0 G07Ex G07AK  
G08 3 / 2 250/23=10.9 14/23=.61 1/23=.04 G08Ex G08AK  
G09 3 / 1 327/30=10.9 23/30=.77 1/30=.03 G09Ex G09AK  
G10 4 / 2 302/25=12.1 17/25=.68 2/25=.08 G10Ex G10AK  
G11 4 / 2 350/35=10.0 11/35=.31 4/35=.11 G11Ex G11AK  
TA-1 3 / 0 308/33=9.3 13/33=.39 1/33=.03 TA1Ex TA1AK  
TA-2 2 / 1 344/33=10.4 18/33=.55 1/33=.03 TA2Ex TA2AK  
TA-3 2 / 0 431/37=11.6 25/37=.68 0 TA3Ex TA3AK  
TA-4 4 / 2 393/40=9.8 20/40=.50 0 TA4Ex TA4AK  
TA-5 1 / 0 102/13=7.8 5/13=.38 0 TA5Ex TA5AK  
TA-6 2 / 1 277/27=10.3 10/27=.37 0 TA6Ex TA6AK  
TA-7 4 / 2 401/28=14.3 16/28=.57 1/28=.04 TA7Ex TA7AK  
TA-8 3 / 1 275/34=8.1 13/34=.38 1/34=.03 TA8Ex TA8AK  

Exercises Based on these Samples

Helping Verbs

Modal Helping Verbs AK G4 L1.1

Exploring Verbals [IM]

Exploring Verbs as Direct Objects (Based on TA-6)

These sentences are all from "Making Pizza" (TA-06) from the 2004 North Carolina Trainers Manual. You might want to have students discuss this essay in the context of the prompt and evaluation criteria from that Manual.

AK G4; IG4 L2.1.6 FV/Verbal
Infinitives with and without a subject AK " "
Gerunds as Direct Objects AK " "
Comparing Gerunds and Infinitives as Direct Objects AK " "
More Practice with Infinitives as Direct Objects (Relatively Easy) AK " "
More Practice with Infinitives as Direct Objects  (More Difficult) AK " "
Verbals (Gerundives) as Adjectives AK " "
Verbals (Infinitives) as Adjectives AK " "
Verbals (Infinitives) as Adverbs (Easy) AK " "
Verbals (Infinitives) as Adverbs (Harder) AK " "
Verbs That Function as Adjectives "How to" and "What to" AK " "

Clauses

Compound Main Clauses AK G4 L3.1.1 CMC
Subordinate (Noun) Clauses as Direct Objects AK G4 L3.1.2 Sub Cl
Subordinate Clauses That Function as Adverbs (# 1) (Easy) AK G4; IG4 L3.1.2 Sub Cl
Subordinate Clauses That Function as Adverbs (# 2) (Harder) AK G4; IG4 "
Adverbial Clauses of Comparison, Purpose ? Result AK G4 L3.1.2
Subordinate Clauses That Function as Adjectives (# 1)  AK G4 L3.1.2 Sub Cl Adj
Subordinate Clauses That Function as Adjectives (# 2) AK "; IG4 L3.1.2 Sub Cl Adj
Subordinate Clauses (Embedded) inside Subordinate Clauses (# 1) AK G4; IG4 L3.1.3 SC Embed
Subordinate Clauses (Embedded) inside Subordinate Clauses (# 2) AK G4; IG4 "
Subordinate Clauses That Function as Nouns (+) AK G4; IG4 L3.1.2 Sub Cl
Mixed Subordinate Clauses (#1) AK G4; IG4 L3.1.2 Sub Cl Mix
Mixed Subordinate Clauses (#2) AK G4; IG4 "
L3.1.2 Mixed Rewrite (SC to MC ? MC to SC) AK G4 L3.1.2 
 
Assessment Quiz AK G4



The items in the following blue field are taken verbatim from the Trainer Manual.
The NC Writing Assessment is scored in two components -- Content / Conventions

Content composed of:

Focus
Organization
Support and Elaboration
Style
Conventions composed of:
Sentence Formation
Usage
Mechanics

Focus

     Focus is the topic/subject established by the writer in response to the writing task.
     The writer must clearly establish a focus as he/she fulfills the assignment of the prompt.
     The writer may effectively use an inductive organizational plan that does not actually identify the subject matter at the beginning and may not literally identify the subject matter at all.
     If the reader is confused about the subject matter, the writer has not effectively established a focus.
     If the reader is engage and not confused, the writer probably has been effective in establishing a focus.

Organization

     Organization is the progression, relatedness, and completeness of ideas.
     The writer establishes for the reader a well-organized composition, which exhibits a constancy of purpose through the development of elements forming an effective beginning, middle, and end.
      The response demonstrates a clear progression of related ideas and /or evens an is unified and complete.

Support and Elaboration

     Support and Elaboration is the extension and development of the topic/subject.
     Two important concepts in determining whether details are supportive are the concepts of relatedness and sufficiency.
     Relatedness has to do with the directness of the relationship that the writer establishes between the information and the subject matter.
     The writer must present his/her ideas with enough power and clarity to cause the support to be sufficient.
     Undeveloped details, redundancy, and the repetitious paraphrasing of the same point often characterize insufficiency. Sufficiency has less to do with amount and more to do with the specificity and effectiveness of the support and elaboration provided.

Style

     Style is the control of language that is appropriate to the purpose, audience, and context of the writing task.
     The writer's style is evident through word choice and sentence fluency. Skillful use of precise, purposeful vocabulary enhances the effectiveness of the composition through the use of appropriate words, phrases and descriptions that engage the audience.
     Sentence fluency involves using a variety of sentence styles to establish effective relationships between and among ideas, causes, and/or statements appropriate to the task.

North Carolina Writing Assessment Scoring Model Grades 4, 7, and 10
Content Rubric

Points Descriptions
4
  • Topics/subject is clear, though it may or may not be explicitly stated
  • Maintains focus on topic/subject throughout the response
  • Organizational structure establishes relationships between and among ideas and/or events
  • Consists of a logical progression of ideas and/or events and is unified and complete
  • Support and elaboration are related to and supportive of the topic/subject
  • Consists of specific, developed details
  • Exhibits skillful use of vocabulary that is precise and purposeful
  • .Demonstrates skillful use of sentence fluency
3
  • Topic/subject is generally clear, though it mayor may not be explicitly stated
  • May exhibit minor lapses in focus on topic/subject
  • Organizational structure establishes relationships between and among ideas and/or events, although minor lapses may be present
  • Consists of a logical progression of ideas and/or events and is reasonably complete, although minor lapses may be present
  • Support and elaboration may have minor weaknesses in relatedness to and support of the topic/subject
  • Consists of some specific details
  • Exhibits reasonable use of vocabulary that is precise and purposeful
  • Demonstrates reasonable use of sentence fluency
2
  • Topic/subject may be vague
  • May lose or may exhibit lapses in focus on topic/subject
  • Organizational structure may establish little relationship between and among ideas and/or events
  • May have major lapses in the logical progression of ideas and/or events and is minimally complete
  • Support and elaboration may have major weaknesses in relatedness to and support of the topic/subject
  • Consists of general and/or undeveloped details, which may be presented in a list-like fashion
  • Exhibits minimal use of vocabulary that is precise and purposeful
  • Demonstrates minimal use of sentence fluency
1
  • Topic/subject is unclear or confusing
  • .May fail to establish focus on topic/subject
  • Organizational structure may not establish connection between and among ideas and/or events
  • May consist of ideas and/or events that are presented in a random fashion and is incomplete or confusing
  • Support and elaboration attempts to support the topic/subject but may be unrelated or confusing
  • Consists of sparse details
  • Lacks use of vocabulary that is precise and purposeful
  • May not demonstrate sentence fluency
NS
  • This code may be used for compositions that are entirely illegible or otherwise unscorable: blank responses, responses written in a foreign language, restatements of the prompts, and responses that are off- topic or incoherent.
  • Scores range from 1-4 (with 4 being the highest).
  • Characteristics from the four features (focus, organization, support and elaboration, and style) are represented within each score point.
  • If a response receives an NS designation it will not receive a score in neither content nor conventions.
  • Non-Scorable (NS) designations are based on one of the following condition codes:

  •  Illegible (Entirely)
    Blank
    Written in a language other than English
    Restatement of the prompt
    Off-topic/Incoherent
North Carolina Writing Assessment Scoring Model Grades 4, 7, and 10
Conventions Rubric
Points Descriptions
2 Exhibits reasonable control of grammatical conventions appropriate to the writing task
Exhibits reasonable control of sentence formation
Exhibits reasonable control of standard usage including agreement, tense, and case
Exhibits reasonable control of mechanics including use of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling
1 Exhibits minimal control of grammatical conventions appropriate to the writing task
Exhibits minimal control of sentence formation
Exhibits minimal control of standard usage including agreement, tense, and case
Exhibits minimal control of mechanics including use of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling
0 Lacks control of grammatical conventions appropriate to the writing task
Lacks control of sentence formation
Lacks control of standard usage including agreement, tense, and case
Lacks control of mechanics including use of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling
  • Scores range from 0 - 2 (with 2 being the highest)
  • The key words and phrases in this rubric are "reasonable control" for a 2; "minimal control" for a 1; "lacks control" for a 0.
  • Conventions involve correctness in sentence formation, usage, and mechanics.
  • Although there is one conventions rubric for all three grades, it is understood that the expectations for each grade are based on the standards set forth in the NCSCS.
  • The writer has control of grammatical conventions that are appropriate to the writing task.
  • Patterns are detected and noted throughout student responses. A single error will not affect a score point because the scorers are trained to look for patterns of errors.
  • Errors, if present, do not impede the reader's understanding of the ideas conveyed.
Grades 4, 7, and 10 Writing Conventions
Examples of Common Errors

Sentence Formation:
A sentence is an expression of an assertion, explanation, proposal, question, or command.
Fragments
  • When I go to school.
  • Then I started to write. [This is not a fragment. (EV)]
Run-ons
  • I think they need to get up earlier so they can get ready for school and have time to eat breakfast they need to get up at an earlier time.
Phrases or clauses used incorrectly which interfere with the meaning of the sentence
  • While sleeping, they need to go to bed earlier.
  • Drinking my milk, the cookies seemed irresistible.

Usage:
Standard usage includes agreement, tense, and case.
Incorrect use of verbs
  • Students is very disruptive.
  • People was laughing at the guy's answers.
Pronouns misuse
  • The girls went to play with there own teams.
  • Between you and I, the test was hard.
Incorrect formations
  • hisself, theirselves, bestest
Failure to use a word according to its standard meaning
  • How did you no?
  • Tell them to right a letter home.

Mechanics:
Mechanics involves the use of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
Incorrect Capitalization
  • did he give it away?
  • The teacher's name is tom evans.
  • Jose and i went to the store.
  • George eats Bananas and Oranges.
Incorrect Punctuation
  • Why did she go home early.
  • John plays golf tennis and baseball.
  • Audrey said Go to the store."
Pattern of misspelling of common words or Incorrect pluralization
  • freind for friend
  • boxs for boxes
  • droped for dropped

     The inclusion of "sentence fluency" under "Content" probably results in an overlap with "sentence formation" under "Conventions," but note that all the samples that have the highest grade for content (4) also have the highest grade for conventions (2).


A Brief Explanation of the Statistics

     An enormous number of questions can be raised about statistical studies, but they do have their uses. When I first looked at these North Carolina samples, they seemed very sophisticated for fourth graders. They are not, I should note, presented as a statistical sample of the writing of fourth graders -- they are presented as exercises and samples in the Trainer Manual for North Carolina assessment. A statistical analysis, even a quick one like that given here, can, however, give us some perspective of what we are looking at.
     These nineteen samples average 9.9 words per main clause. [Note that each average is arrived at by taking the total number of words in the sample and dividing it by the number of main clauses ("/") in the analysis.] In his famous study, Walter Loban reported that fourth graders averaged 8.0 words per main clause; Kellogg Hunt reported 8.5. [For more on the statistics see the "Summary Statistics" in KISS's Cobweb Corner.] O'Donnell's fifth graders averaged 9.3, but Loban's sixth graders averaged only 9.0, and his seventh graders averaged 8.9. O'Donnell's seventh graders, on the other hand, averaged 10.0. In this context, the fourth grade samples at which we are looking here are comparable to the writing of seventh graders.
     A similar disparity exists in regard to subordinate clauses per main clause. These nineteen samples average .50, or one subordinate clause for every two main clauses. Loban's fourth graders averaged .19; Hunt's .29. In those studies, these numbers remain in the twenties until seventh grade, where they jump into the forties and fifties, and they remain in that range through eleventh grade. (Loban reported an average of .45 for eleventh graders.)
     Although we need to be very careful about drawing conclusions from these studies, there is one important one that we probably should make. The nineteen samples that we are looking at here are probably written, on average, by much better than average fourth graders. This is especially important in that we are making numerous exercises for fourth graders based on these samples. It was, I believe, Hunt who noted that natural syntactic development is "glacially slow." Put differently, we can use exercises based on these samples to help most fourth graders improve their reading and writing, but we need to keep our expectations in perspective.
     There is, however, a completely different way of using these statistics since the samples have been "graded" by the North Carolina DoE. Thus we can look at how the individual statistics compare to the scores for content and conventions. The following table reflects the average number of words per main clause, and subordinate clauses per main clause, according to the content and conventions scores:
 
Content W/MC SC/MC
1 (N=4) 8.6 .32
2 (N=6) 9.9 .56
3 (N=5) 9.7 .55
4 (N=4) 11.6 .52
Conventions  W/MC SC/MC
0 (N=5) 9.4 .44
1 (N=6) 9.3 .42
2 (N=8) 10.7 .60

     Perhaps I am overly influenced by the fact that, at the time I became interested in the teaching of sentence structure, sentence-combining was the rage, and the researchers and educators were pushing students to write longer and more complex sentences. The preceding tables suggest that length and complexity are important -- but not that important. The highest scoring students are well ahead of the rest, but they probably are so because they read and write a lot, and not because of conscious attempts to push them into writing more sophisticated sentences. Some simple sentence-combining exercises are probably appropriate for students who are at the low end of the scale, but even here there are questions. The writer of TA-3, for example, averaged 11.6 words per main clause and .68 subordinate clauses per main clause -- at or above the high end averages. But the sample is scored "2/0." The NC evaluators' comments are particularly interesting and probably highly relevant. The content grade suffers primarily from problems in the logical development and focus of the paper. It, as well as the conventions grade, suffers from run-on sentences, verb usage errors, spelling errors, and incorrect dialogue annotation. In essence, control of sentence structure and conventions is much more important than length and complexity.
     One of the things that fascinated me about this set of samples is the frequent appearance of what I have called subordinate clauses that function as interjections:

"What are Mac and Cheese?" [I asked]. /
She must not be feeling well, [I guessed]. /
"Callie," [my dad said], "we need to work on balancing." /
Traditional grammar textbooks rarely deal with such clauses, and, if they do, they probably consider the "I asked," "I guessed," and "my dad said" as the main clauses, and the other clauses to be functioning as direct objects. To consider them as regular direct objects, however, is to miss a major stylistic difference. (Thus the KISS distinction.)  One of the things that fascinated me is that such clauses appear in eleven of the nineteen samples -- 58%, and one even appears in TA-1, a paper that was scored "3/0." If a school system decided to teach clauses to fourth graders, and if such clauses appear in over half of the students' writing, we need to at least consider enabling the students to explain that structure. The current plan for the main fourth grade workbook therefore devotes a week to them.