Three years ago, the language arts faculty at Hastings Catholic Schools embarked on a more rigorous writing program for their high school students. Greater emphasis was placed on the accountability of students in the areas of punctuation and sentence structure and a more focused transition from writing persuasive essays (My Favorite Dessert) to writing essays requiring critical thinking and analysis, a format demanded by most college professors.
As a test to see if this approach would prove to be successful, a panel of college/university professors from a variety of backgrounds was invited to read student essays on Shakespeares play, Hamlet, and complete a rubric based on the Nebraska state standards for writing. Some papers were read by up to four evaluators from a cross-section of educational arenas. The papers were evaluated based on ideas and content, organization of ideas, sentence fluency, grammar and punctuation, as well as proper documentation and use of external literary sources. In addition, readers were asked the most direct question: If this paper had been submitted as part of your college class, what overall grade would it have received?
Readers included faculty from Nebraska Wesleyan University, Central Community College in both Hastings and Grand Island, as well as several faculty members from the Mary Lanning School of Radiology. Disciplines represented by the readers included technology, English,
psychology, nursing and radiology. The language arts department consciously chose readers from a diverse range of disciplines and academic institutions because it mirrored the post-graduate plans and
occupational interests of the class of 2014. Many of our students are interested in careers within health care, said Julie Blazer, Director of Guidance and Curriculum.
Students were not aware that their essays on Shakespeare would be sent to any external readers. For that matter, neither did the teacher, since the decision to select this particular paper for external evaluation was not made until a month or so after this class assignment. In hindsight, this proved to be the right form of assessment with no bias built in on the part of the student or the teacher. There was no practice session before the actual writing date, no final coaching on what to pay attention to just a routine approach by students to an assigned task.
The findings affirmed the schools writing program. The answer to the question of whether or not the senior class was ready to meet the challenge of college assignments across a variety of disciplines was a resounding Yes. 76% of the senior class scored in the A/B range with 38% of those garnering a grade of A- to A+. No failure grade was given by any of the readers. Several students received straight A in all of the assessment categories by one or more of their evaluators. Equally affirming was the high degree of match between the grade of the evaluators and the grade given by the teacher. This is important, said Blazer, since the students need to recognize that the teacher is giving them their final preparation for college.
In yet another affirmation of the success of a rigorous writing formation, senior Tess Wahlmeier has successfully achieved recognition for her writing by being named a Silver Key recipient for the Mid-West Region in the annual Scholastic Art & Writing Competition. Tess is the daughter of Dr. Patrick and Debbie Wahlmeier of Juniata and will be a regent scholar at the University of Nebraska Lincoln in the Fall.
We are very pleased with the results of this assessment, said Father Tom Brouillette, Superintendent of Hastings Catholic Schools. The focus on preparing our students for their success in college and other work-related areas is part of our vision for the successful graduate of Hastings Catholic Schools. We are proud that our seniors can leave us with a firm foundation in both the spiritual and the practical.
This years senior class has been accepted at such prestigious colleges/universities as Georgetown School of Foreign Service, Catholic University of America, Creighton University, Nebraska Wesleyan and Colorado School of Mines.