Middle Grades English 5 to 9

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Written Performance Section

The following materials contain:

Essay Scoring Criteria

Your essay will be scored holistically by two raters. The raters will use the criteria listed below when evaluating your essay. The score you receive for your essay will be the combined total of the two raters’ scores. A score of at least 8 out of 12 points must be achieved to obtain a passing score on this section of the examination.

Scoring criteria
Essay Score Criteria
SCORE of 6 The essay is effectively written and presents a thorough critical analysis.
  • The essay is unified by an effective thesis statement and well-focused on the assignment.
  • The ideas are perceptively analytical, rich, textured, thoughtful, and logical.
  • The essay presents ample evidence and numerous relevant, concrete, and textual details to support generalizations.
  • Syntax is varied and reflects a strong command of language.
  • Organizational strategies enhance clarity and meaning and make the prose fluid.
  • Usage and word choice are precise and appropriate.
  • Mechanics are well-controlled, but there may be occasional minor errors.
SCORE of 5 The essay is clearly written and presents a solid critical analysis.
  • The essay is unified by a thesis statement and clearly focused on the assignment.
  • The ideas are analytical, clear, and logical.
  • The essay reliably presents relevant and precise evidence to support generalizations.
  • Syntax is sometimes varied and indicates control of language.
  • Organizational strategies promote clarity and meaning.
  • Usage and word choice are clear and reliable.
  • Mechanics are controlled; there may be errors, but they are not serious.
SCORE of 4 The essay is adequately written and presents an adequate critical analysis.
  • The essay is, in general, unified by a thesis statement and focused on the assignment.
  • The ideas are mostly analytical but tend to be general.
  • The essay usually provides an adequate amount of detail to support generalizations.
  • Syntax variation may be minimal but is generally grammatically correct.
  • Paragraphs are unified, and transitions, though often formulaic, are used to link major ideas.
  • Usage and word choice are mostly accurate.
  • Mechanics are generally controlled; errors may occur, but only a few are distracting.
SCORE of 3 The essay is lacking in either writing skills or analysis.
  • The essay may be partially unified by a thesis statement and focuses to some degree on the assignment.
  • The ideas are mostly logical but may not be analytical.
  • The essay may contain an insufficient amount of specific detail.
  • Syntax may not be varied and may be grammatically flawed.
  • Paragraphs are usually unified; some transitions may be used.
  • Usage and word choice may be inaccurate or inappropriate.
  • There may be many distracting mechanical errors.
SCORE of 2 The essay exhibits weak writing skills and illogical or disjointed analysis.
  • The essay has minimal unity and focus, although it attempts to address the assignment.
  • The ideas are superficial and often unclear, illogical, ambiguous, or vague.
  • Development is often incomplete, consisting of any combination of generalizations, lists, or details that may be irrelevant.
  • Syntax is simplistic, disjointed, or both.
  • There are few, if any, transitions, and paragraphs may not be related to each other.
  • Usage and word choice are often inaccurate or inappropriate.
  • There are many distracting mechanical errors.
SCORE of 1 The essay fails to demonstrate writing or analytical skills.
  • The essay lacks unity and focus.
  • The ideas are unclear, confusing, unreasoned, and/or tenuously connected to the text.
  • The essay includes very little, if any, specific and relevant supporting detail.
  • Syntax is elementary and often faulty.
  • Any organization present fails to provide a discernible sequence of ideas.
  • Usage and word choice are irregular and often questionable or wrong.
  • Serious mechanical errors impede meaning.

Directions

Sample topics are presented below. Your essay will be judged "off topic" if it does not fully address the topic presented. You will have one hour to complete your essay.

You must write an  start underline original essay that specifically and directly responds to the topic end underline . Pre-prepared essays or essays that are discovered to contain memorized sentences or pre-prepared passages will be invalidated. For example, if the essay raters discover passages that appear in two or more essays, the essays and the violation will be brought to the attention of the Florida Department of Education and may result in the invalidation of your scores.

At least two raters will read your essay, and each will assign it a score. The personal views you express will not be an issue; however, the skill with which you express those views, the logic of your arguments, and the degree to which you support your position will be very important in the scoring.

Your essay will be holistically evaluated according to the following criteria:

Essay Criteria
Criteria Description
Purpose and Focus The extent to which the essay addresses the assignment, and the extent to which the thesis is analytical and maintained throughout the essay.
Ideas The extent to which the topic statements are perceptive and generate secondary ideas germane to the analysis.
Support The extent to which the essay provided reasoned, relevant support and specific evidence, including evidence from the text.
Organization The extent to which the essay’s structure and organizational strategies enhance clarity and meaning.
Sentence Structure The extent to which sentence structure is effective, varied, and sound.
Usage and Word Choice The extent to which words are used correctly and precisely.
Mechanics The extent to which punctuation and capitalization are used appropriately and words are spelled accurately.

Take a few minutes to organize your thoughts and plan your essay. Leave time for editing and revising after you have completed your essay. You may outline or plan your essay on the erasable noteboard provided. Your informal outline or plan will not be scored.

Annotated Sample Responses

The sample responses below include an example that meets the general level of writing skill and subject matter knowledge necessary to receive a passing score as well as an example that does not meet the required standard. All responses are scored holistically, meaning that both strengths and weaknesses are weighed when assigning an overall score. While rationales are provided, it is important to keep in mind that not all strengths and weaknesses are identified and that there may be errors in grammar and mechanical conventions, even in the sample passing response.

Essay Topic

 start bold Using any critical approach, identify the overall effect of the selection and discuss in an essay how the language and/or other elements contribute to the overall effect. Support your discussion with specific references to the text. end bold 

"Birthday Party"

They were a couple in their late thirties, and they looked unmistakably married. They sat on the banquette opposite us in a little narrow restaurant, having dinner. The man had a round, self-satisfied face, with glasses on it; the woman was fadingly pretty, in a big hat. There was nothing conspicuous about them, nothing particularly noticeable, until the end of their meal, when it suddenly became obvious that this was an Occasion—in fact, the husband’s birthday, and the wife has planned a little surprise for him.

It arrived, in the form of a small but glossy birthday cake, with one pink candle burning in the center. The headwaiter brought it in and placed it before the husband, and meanwhile the violin-and-piano orchestra played “Happy Birthday to You,” and the wife beamed with shy pride over her little surprise, and such few people as there were in the restaurant tried to help out with a pattering of applause. It became clear at once that help was needed, because the husband was not pleased. Instead, he was hotly embarrassed, and indignant at his wife for embarrassing him.

You looked at him and you saw this and you thought, “Oh, now, don’t be like that!” But he was like that, and as soon as the little cake had been deposited on the table, and the orchestra had finished the birthday piece, and the general attention was shifted from the man and the woman, I saw him say something to her under his breath—some punishing thing, quick and curt and unkind. I couldn’t bear to look at the woman then, so I stared at my plate and waited for quite a long time. Not long enough, though. She was still crying when I finally glanced over there again. Crying quietly and heartbrokenly and hopelessly, all to herself, under the gay big brim of her best hat.

Short Story “Birthday Party” by Katharine Brush

Annotation Key

Annotated text using these styles are related to the associated scoring criteria as follows:

Sample Passing Response

Please note: The sample response provided below is for review purposes only and should not be used in a response on an operational exam. Use of the exact words and phrases presented in this sample response will result in a Not Passing score due to lack of original work.

With the short story, "Birthday Party," Katharine Brush presents a vignette that evokes a strong emotional response in readers, out of sympathy for the female character who tries to give her husband a birthday surprise. The piece includes various elements that effectively pull readers into the story, make them feel emotionally invested in it, and then exploit that investment in order to create feelings of sympathy and sadness.

First, Brush uses strong imagery in the piece, relying not on dialogue between the characters, but on visual cues that the narrator observes: a cake with a single candle, a small orchestra performing a song, and the facial expressions and body language of the man and the woman. For instance, readers can easily imagine the man's "round, self-satisfied face" and the "small but glossy birthday cake, with one pink candle burning in the center." All of these combine to allow readers to visualize a vivid scene and imagine themselves within the story.

Secondly, Brush's narrator tells the story as though it were a personal anecdote; she even uses the second person at one point, explaining "You looked at him and you saw this and you thought, 'Oh, now, don't be like that!'", which imitates the type of casual language a storyteller might use when relaying the incident to a friend. This also allows readers to feel like active participants in the unfolding of the story. They even get a sense of the narrator's emotional reaction to the scene: "I couldn't bear to look at the woman then." This further heightens the sense that readers are hearing a true account of a recent occurrence, which, in turn, heightens their sense of empathy.

Finally, the greatest emotional impact comes from the juxtaposition between the gaity of the occasion and the emotional results in the two characters. With festive details including the headwaiter's delivery of the cake, the violin-and-piano orchestra, and the wife "beam[ing] with shy pride," readers understand the thoughtfulness of the woman and her hope to please him. In contrast, her hopes and intentions are destroyed by his embarrassed and angry reaction, as illustrated by his saying "some punishing thing, quick and curt and unkind", and, perhaps most strikingly, the woman "crying quietly and heartbrokenly and hopelessly, all to herself, under the big brim of her best hat." This final image of a festive hat and quiet tears re-emphasizes both the discord between her intentions and the story's outcome, and her despair after the events occur.

The readers' emotional investment in the interaction between these two people is the key to this piece achieving its desired effect; that is, to sympathize so completely with the woman in the story that they, too, feel her sadness and aloneness. The literary techniques that Katharine Brush uses, such as vivid imagery, a confiding tone, and extreme contrast between the various images used, all work to deftly achieve her goal.

This essay is Passing based on the following performance characteristics:

Sample Passing Response Criteria
Performance Characteristic Feedback
Purpose and Focus The essay is unified by a thesis statement that ties directly to the purpose of the assignment. The focus is clearly on how the passage secures emotional investment from the reader and subsequently uses that investment to “create feelings of sympathy and sadness.” Each body paragraph contains clear connections to the thesis, using the “elements” of imagery, point of view/tone, and juxtaposition to explain how the emotional response is built. The concluding paragraph summarizes the thesis that has been supported in the preceding paragraphs.
Ideas The ideas offer analysis of the selection to present the author’s overall intended effect. Each body paragraph uses textual evidence to make an analytical point that connects to the thesis. In the third paragraph, for instance, the examinee uses an example of the second-person point of view to show how the language creates an intimate bond with the reader, which “heightens their sense of empathy.”
Support The essay includes relevant examples to support the thesis. The examinee discussed the author’s use of language and literary elements in the supporting paragraphs. Numerous textual evidence is used to support generalizations throughout the essay. Textual evidence from the passage such as “a cake with a single candle” and select dialogue support the analytical ideas. As an example, in the fourth paragraph, the examinee discussed the “juxtaposition between the gaity of the occasion and the emotional results in the two characters.” Support within this paragraph connects to the effect of despair.
Organization Organizational strategies assist in clarifying the essay’s purpose. The response is organized by the examinee’s ideas contained in the thesis statement.
Sentence Structure Syntax is varied at times throughout the essay.
Usage and Word Choice The examinee used varied vocabulary, though simplistic transitions were utilized to initiate paragraphs.
Mechanics Although not serious or distracting, there are a few mechanical errors throughout the essay.

Sample Not Passing Response

Please note: The sample response provided below is for review purposes only and should not be used in a response on an operational exam. Use of the exact words and phrases presented in this sample response will result in a Not Passing score due to lack of original work.

"Birthday Party" by Katherine Brush is brief yet profoundly touching. The author's use of organization, descriptive detail, and punctuation greatly contribute to the the story's impact.

Firstly, the organization and style of the story is simple and easy to understand. The third-person narrator speaks in the past-tense and describes the sequence of events clearly and concisely. Brush begins by desribing the couple and their apparent circumstances in order to set the scene. Then, she describes the wife's surprise for her husband followed by his rather negative reaction. I especially liked the thrid paragraph because the narrator reveals to the reader just how uncomfortable the situation truly is for the couple.

Secondly, Brush uses wonderful description in "Birthday Party." For example, she says, "The man had a round, self-satisfied face" (Brush). Furthermore, she describes the woman as being "fadingly pretty" (Brush). Even the detail Brush includes about the surprise birthday cake ignites fantastic visual imagery: "It arrived, in the form of a small but glossy birthday cake, with one pink candle burning in the center." However, my favorite descriptive detail is that of the wife's expression during the birthday song. She writes, "The wife beamed with shy pride over her little surprise" (Brush). Even the simplest descriptions are capable of forming the most vivid imagery.

Finally, Brush's style of language and use of punctuation gives "Birthday Party" a unique tone. While reading, the narrator's voice flowed through my thoughts as though the story were actually being told to me. In addition, the sometimes strange use of punctuation added to the casually crisp style of story telling. In the third paragraph, I especially felt the narrator's sympathy for the woman.

In all, I truly enjoyed reading Brush's short story "Birthday Party." It was easy and enjoyable to understand. Most importantly, however, it stirred empathetic emotions towards all three of the characters.

This essay is Not Passing based on the following performance characteristics:

Sample Not Passing Response Criteria
Performance Characteristic Feedback
Purpose and Focus The essay does not have a clear analytic thesis that is maintained throughout. In the first paragraph, “profoundly touching” is a vague effect, and there is no connection to it in the second and third paragraphs. In the fourth paragraph, the examinee “felt the narrator’s sympathy for the woman,” but there is no support provided for this claim, and it furthers the ambiguity about the overall effect by making it unclear whether it is the reader or the narrator being affected. The same is true of the comment that “it stirred empathetic emotions” in the final paragraph. None of these effects are connected to the elements of “organization, descriptive detail, and punctuation” that “greatly contribute to the the [sic] story’s impact.”
Ideas The examinee’s ideas are logical but not analytical. For example, the idea in the second paragraph is that “the organization and style of the story is simple and easy to understand.” In the next paragraph, the idea is that “Brush uses wonderful description.” In the final body paragraph, the idea is that “Brush’s style of language and use of punctuation gives ‘Birthday Party’ a unique tone.” These are not perceptive topic statements, nor do they connect to an overall effect or analysis. Secondary ideas also are more logical than analytical. To point out that “the narrator’s voice flowed through my thoughts as though the story were actually being told to me” is not analytic—it is descriptive.
Support Instead of providing textual support to an analysis, the examinee offered plot summary and personal opinions. The second paragraph simply points out the sequence of events and then identifies a paragraph the examinee “especially liked.” The third paragraph is a list of details and images from the excerpt that do not support an overall effect or analytic idea. In other areas, there is an insufficient amount of specific detail. For example, in the fourth paragraph, the examinee pointed to “the sometimes strange use of punctuation” but did not provide examples from the text or analyze this element.
Organization Paragraphs are generally, if formulaically, unified through the use of transitions.
Sentence Structure There is some sentence variety, and syntax is generally correct. There are a few errors, such as the dangling modifier “While reading” in the fourth paragraph.
Usage and Word Choice Although in general word choice and usage are correct, there are instances where varied word choice would have been better. The repetition of “describes” in the second and third paragraphs is an example. “Casually crisp style” is an interesting phrase that is unfortunately left unclear with no explanation of what it means in the context of the text.
Mechanics Although not distracting from the essay’s overall purpose, there are some errors in the writing, including misspellings such as “desribing," “thrid,” and “story telling.”

Sample Essay Topic 1

 start bold Using any critical approach, identify the overall effect of the selection and discuss in an essay how the language and/or other elements contribute to the overall effect. Support your discussion with specific references to the text. end bold 

 start bold Alone end bold 

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

— Maya Angelou

Angelou, M. (1975). Alone. In Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well. New York: Random House.

In the box provided, please write your  start uppercase ORIGINAL end uppercase  essay based on the topic presented. Note that you are limited to 8,000 characters. As you type your response, a character count will appear at the bottom of the response box.


Character Count: 0

Sample Essay Topic 2

 start bold Using any critical approach, identify the overall effect of the selection and discuss in an essay how the language and/or other elements contribute to the overall effect. Support your discussion with specific references to the text. end bold 

The Inheritance of Tools

As the saw teeth bit down, the wood released its smell, each kind with its own fragrance, oak or walnut or cherry or pine—usually pine because it was the softest, easiest for a child to work. No matter how weathered and gray the board, no matter how warped and cracked, inside there was this smell waiting, as of something freshly baked. I gathered every smidgen of sawdust and stored it away in coffee cans, which I kept in a drawer of the workbench. When I did not feel like hammering nails, I would dump my sawdust on the concrete floor of the garage and landscape it into highways and farms and towns, running miniature cars and trucks along miniature roads.

Looming as huge as a colossus, my father worked over and around me, now and again bending down to inspect my work, careful not to trample my creations. It was a landscape that smelled dizzyingly of wood. Even after a bath my skin would carry the smell, and so would my father's hair, when he lifted me for a bedtime hug.

— Scott Russell Sanders

Sanders, S.R. (1986/1991). The Inheritance of Tools. In The Essay Connection: Readings for Writers, Third Edition (p. 200). Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company.

In the box provided, please write your  start uppercase ORIGINAL end uppercase  essay based on the topic presented. Note that you are limited to 8,000 characters. As you type your response, a character count will appear at the bottom of the response box.


Character Count: 0
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