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Online Writing Program Walks the Walk

MY Access! boosts scores across all categories

There are powerful factors at work encouraging school administrators, teachers and students to improve writing and district/school proficiency levels on statewide assessments, not least of which is meeting federal mandates for improvement within the No Child Left Behind Act.

But the most compelling motivation is found among well-taught, inspired students who are eager to do progressively better on writing lessons. “Writing improvements only occur when kids want to improve,” notes Athens (PA) Area Junior High School principal Patrick Kelley, who knows a thing or two about motivation, “and we need to keep encouraging them to do better, and to get that message to them as quickly and consistently as possible. For example, when our students practice an online writing assignment using MY Access!, they receive online constructive feedback within seconds with specific, sound suggestions for improvement. It motivates them to do better and to do better immediately.”

The facts back him up. After using the MY Access! software for the past three years, his 400-plus eighth- and ninth-graders raised their Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSA) writing scores dramatically. “They lifted them from a 48% advanced or proficient level in 2000 - 2001 to 70% advanced or proficient this year,” Mr. Kelley says. “Last year’s class f 205 ninth-grade students had 120 students who were rated as advanced or proficient on the PSSA and they threw down the gauntlet to the next class, challenging them to do better. That’s a big incentive.” Mr. Kelley sweetened the dare by pledging that he would walk the 15 miles from his home to school ? if the next class bettered the previous class’ performance. Picking up the gauntlet, the class of 2003-04 breezed past the goal ? last year, 136 students were rated as advanced or proficient on the PSSA so Mr. Kelly took his walk. “I showed up at school exactly on time at 8:15 AM and everyone was outside, cheering me on, applauding, having a lot of fun,” he recalls.

The MY Access! program is clearly a large reason for the upward momentum, he says. The powerful but easy-to-use Web-based program, a product of Vantage Learning (, the leading provider of online assessment and automated essay scoring and other testing services to districts in all 50 states with K-12 programs, leverages artificial intelligence to provide essay assessment capabilities. The program has the capacity to provide multilingual feedback to accommodate English Language Learners of varying levels of proficiency, and MY Expert Scorer! bridges the gap between automated and human scoring by allowing either the Artificial Intelligence scoring engine or a panel of expert human scorers to score student essays. Students can plan writing tasks, write to numerous grade level-appropriate prompts, receive immediate feedback on their writing, and revise their writing as appropriate. MY Access! also includes writing prompts aligned to core basal reading texts and high-quality, grade-level appropriate literature such as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Call of the Wild.

A key benefit of the MY Access! software, according to Kasey Frederick, Instructional Specialist, Language Arts Department Head, Forest Meadow Junior High (Dallas), is the boost the online program affords all students: “Our economically disadvantaged students gained 16 points in one year,” she says. “That group went from failing status as a subpop at 54% passing to 70% passing in the next year. This last year, all [economically disadvantaged groups] met the Texas state standard.”

According to Scott Kinney, director of Educational Technologies at Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit #21, (Allentown, PA), several school districts supported by his regional service agency have just completed a comprehensive assessment of the program. “We wanted to make the assessment close to the PSSA experience by tasking the assessment process to nine state writing committee members.” Along with a pre- and post-test scored by the writing committee, half the students used MY Access! and the other half used traditional teaching methods.

The research focused on the improvement of students that were not proficient on the pretest. “Our 9th graders really showed wonderful improvement. Of the 9th graders that were not proficient on the pre-test, 40% improved to proficient by the end of the short study. The students that did not have the benefit of MY Access! saw only 22% improve to proficient.

“But students aren’t the only beneficiaries,” Kinney adds. “This program, rather than replacing teachers, frees them to focus on helping students and provides them with specific direction and assistance. So instead of grading, say, 180 writing papers, a teacher can identify and help students when and where help is needed. This [program] can help students become better writers and teachers even better educators.”

For more information on MY Access!, contact Harry Barfoot III, Vice President, Vantage Learning (