Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning

Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning

Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning

Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning


Adler-Kassner and O'Neill show writing faculty and administrators how to frame discussions of writing assessment so that they accurately represent research-based practices, and promote assessments that are valid, reliable, and discipline-appropriate.

Public discourse about writing instruction is currently driven by ideas of what instructors and programs "need to do," "should do," or "are not doing," and is based on poorly informed concepts of correctness and unfounded claims about a broad decline in educational quality. This discussion needs to be reframed, say Adler-Kassner and O'Neill, to help policymakers understand that the purpose of writing instruction is to help students develop critical thinking, reading, and writing strategies that will form the foundation for their future educations, professional careers, and civic engagement.

Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning is grounded in the best of writing assessment research, and focuses on how to communicate it effectively to publics beyond academe.


Consider the following scenario, discussed on the Writing Program Administration listserv (WPA-L). The scenario is based on the experiences of a writing program administrator at a large midwestern university:

The writing program director learns that “there is a movement
afoot” at her university to administer the Collegiate Learning
Assessment (CLA) to first-year students and seniors. This will mean
that these students will take a ninety-minute essay exam designed to
“test” their critical thinking skills. The tests results will be published
so that her institution can be compared to others in its category and,
if necessary, used to improve any weaknesses that are identified.

In listening to the conversations on campus, this program director feels there is an implicit message that the test would be a way of marketing the school as a “first-rate institution.” Although no one explicitly discusses the CLA as an assessment of writing (instead, they say, it is an indication of critical thinking skills), she feels strongly that it will reflect on the writing program.

In response to what she is learning as she listens to the discussions on campus, the program director turns to the national community of writing professionals on the WPA-L to get background information for her upcoming meeting with the university assessment committee. She learns that the test is just one indicator the school wants to use to demonstrate “critical thinking”—although the other indicators were never articulated, at least not to her. After the meeting, she writes a memo to the committee and administrators outlining her concerns based on her knowledge of writing pedagogy, assessment, and the . . .

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