A Guide to College Writing Assessment

A Guide to College Writing Assessment

A Guide to College Writing Assessment

A Guide to College Writing Assessment


While most English professionals feel comfortable with language and literacy theories, assessment theories seem more alien. English professionals often don't have a clear understanding of the key concepts in educational measurement, such as validity and reliability, nor do they understand the statistical formulas associated with psychometrics. But understanding assessment theory--and applying it--by those who are not psychometricians is critical in developing useful, ethical assessments in college writing programs, and in interpreting and using assessment results.

A Guide to College Writing Assessment is designed as an introduction and source book for WPAs, department chairs, teachers, and administrators. Always cognizant of the critical components of particular teaching contexts, O'Neill, Moore, and Huot have written sophisticated but accessible chapters on the history, theory, application and background of writing assessment, and they offer a dozen appendices of practical samples and models for a range of common assessment needs.

Because there are numerous resources available to assist faculty in assessing the writing of individual students in particular classrooms, A Guide to College Writing Assessment focuses on approaches to the kinds of assessment that typically happen outside of individual classrooms: placement evaluation, exit examination, programmatic assessment, and faculty evaluation. Most of all, the argument of this book is that creating the conditions for meaningful college writing assessment hinges not only on understanding the history and theories informing assessment practice, but also on composition programs availing themselves of the full range of available assessment practices.


Can we have not simply writing-across-the-curriculum but also writing-assess
ment-across-the-curriculum? If the Department of Writing could model this for
the rest of us, that would be great.

This question, asked in an e-mail from a dean at a liberal arts college to the composition director, illustrates just how central writing and writing assessment have become to discussions about institutional assessment goals and practices that are occurring at colleges and universities across the country (and around the globe). When considered within a historical context, the contemporary embrace of writing as a means for evaluating learning outside of the composition classroom is not surprising. Writing, after all, has been linked to large-scale assessment ever since college entrance examinations evolved from oral tests of literacy abilities to written ones (Brereton 1995; Elliot 2005; Trachsel 1992) and is still a component of entrance evaluations at most institutions of higher education. Writing frequently plays a role in campus-wide assessments of individual student achievement as well, through rising-junior exams, graduation tests, and other competency certifications (Haswell 2001a; Murphy, Carlson, and Rooney 1993).

That a composition director would be included in discussions about institutional assessment is not surprising either, given that more and more program-level administrators are being asked to provide information for campus-wide self-studies and accreditation reviews. Colleges and universities are under such pressure these days to demonstrate the quality of their programs that it is rare for any administrator to be excluded from calls for assessment data of one kind or another. This is especially true for writing program administrators, who typically participate in cross-curricular general education initiatives by way of coordinating introductory composition courses and supporting the instructors who teach them.

What is, perhaps, most compelling about the e-mail query is the implicit message, conveyed by the second sentence, about the potential role of the composition director in the broad-based assessment this dean is beginning to imagine. The dean seems not to be ordering or cajoling the writing program administrator (WPA) to fall in line with an assessment regimen that has already been envisioned (as higher-ed administrative lore might . . .

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