Seventh-graders at Clayton Middle School are preparing for the state's writing test by following the "orange" brick road. The steps to proper writing are written on orange blocks of paper taped to the floor.
Students pick a topic "prompt" from a jar and then talk their way through the writing process using that prompt example.
After several years taking writing tests, students like Langdon Pleasant know what kind of paper will get a high score.
"We need to write an introduction, three body paragraphs and a closing paragraph," he said.
When students finish the writing test, they are given a score from zero to four. Parents and teachers sometimes have a hard time with what the final score means, especially when a strong student scores lower than expected.
The state is changing the way it scores the papers to give teachers, students and parents more information. The new scoring method will give student scores broken down into five catagories, including a score for their organization, the story idea, support for the theme, synthesis and conventions.
Johnston County Accountability Director Patricia Hester said students must pay more attention to the details.
"They are going to have to concentrate on how they write with conventions, capitalization, punctuation, those types of things, because they will be looked at," she said.
The new scoring rubric will be used next year. This spring, selected schools will field test the new writing test. Those tests will be used to determine the passing score next year.
On the present tests, students have two scorers reading their papers. If the scorers disagree on the number given, a third reader is brought in. The student gets one final score.
In the new method, student papers will still be read by two scorers, but the scores will be added together. They will also receive a numerical grade in each of five content areas.
North Carolina testing director Lou Fabrizio said students can score as low as an 8 and as high as a 40 on the new test.
Writing teachers at Clayton Middle say something needed to be done to make the writing test more fair. Teacher Greer Suggs said she sometimes cannot tell why a student made a three instead of a four.
"I want to know exactly what one of my students has done wrong. A more specific scale would definitely be very helpful," she said.
Fabrizio insists the new test should be the teaching tool teachers want, allowing them to spot specific weaknesses, including punctuation, which only gets a plus or a minus score in the present writing program.
Students just need to think about writing a good paper this month. But next year, teachers will be able to use the test to diagnose writing problems and fix them.
While the testing program gets a tweak, the state is holding off on including the writing score in the Exemplary Growth formula.
The growth score is used to determine whether teachers get ABCs bonuses or cash awards for teachers when schools show improvement in student progress. It is unclear whether the state expects to pay out more in bonuses this fall.
Writing scores have held down some schools' overall improvement, eliminating some teachers from the bonus program.