Handbook of Writing Research

By Charles A. Macarthur; Steve Graham et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 28
Writing Assessment
A Techno-History

Brian Huot and Michael Neal

In using a technological lens to examine some historical characteristics of writing assessment, we acknowledge the ideological nature of our inquiry and our choices. We realize that by choosing a technological focus, we will necessarily be addressing some issues rather than others. Our representation of writing assessment will be limited. On the other hand, seeing assessment history technologically will also help us to address current, important issues and to shed light on ways the forces shaping the history of assessment still exert power over current practices, approaches, and attitudes. Barton and Barton (1993) remind us that representations—in their case, the textual representations on maps—are necessarily political in what they do and do not communicate to the reader. The same, of course, can be said of historical representations; they draw attention to specific events, settings, people, cultures, and so forth, at the expense of other perspectives. In this vein, we acknowledge that our history of writing assessment is one representation among several others that highlight different perspectives. For example, Yancey's (1999) history of writing assessment in the 50th anniversary issue of the Journal of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) highlights the history of assessment within a particular time period and in connection with a specific organization, detailing how important writing assessment has been to the CCCC and its history. On the other hand, Williamson's (1993) history illustrates the theoretical and disciplinary evolution of writing assessment. White's (1993) historical account focuses on the dissemination of holistic scoring; battles fought, won, and lost; and the contributions of various groups and individuals to the creation of modern direct writing assessment. Our focus on technology and writing assessment history highlights not only the contribution of technological approaches to writing assessment but also acknowledges its continuing influence. We trace the tremendous strides made in the technology of writing assessment as we point out the limitations of a technological approach and advocate an adherence to theories of validity that stipulate systematic inquiry into all uses for assessment.

We begin by mapping out some important technological developments that have influenced the development, administration, and application of writing assessment for various purposes. For example, the major shift from indirect to direct writing assessment—which has recently been expanded on a national scale with writing requirements for the Standard Achievement Test (SAT) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE), for example— was made possible, in part, due to available technological developments such as holistic scoring, electronic word processing, and computerized scoring. In order to understand technological developments and their


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