Upon the passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act by the U.S. Department of Education in 1994, basic communication skills became a primary concern for educators at various levels of academia (U.S. Department of Education, 1994). Needless to say, when the "basic skills" of communication became a concern, so too did the assessment of those skills. Although the passage of this Act created an explosion of assessment discussions in various academic circles, research concerning assessment effectiveness is not new to the domain of communication. In fact, public debate regarding the assessment of communication competencies dates as far back as Aristotle.
The topic of speech communication assessment continues to be an issue of significant importance for various reasons. Among the most important of these reasons is the assertion that one of the most critical factors to consider in improving communication skills is the effectiveness of the measurement of performance. This argument has been the rationale for numerous studies in the communication assessment literature (e.g., Applebaum, 1974; Barker, Kibler & Geter, 1968; Bohn & Bohn, 1985; Clevenger, 1963; Gudykunst, 1989; Kelley 1965; Stiggins, Backlund, & Bridgeford, 1985). This line of research clearly establishes the importance of effective speech assessment in terms of students' communication development.
Assessment is a particularly salient concern in the basic communication course, which has assumed a large role in most communication and general education programs across the country (Hunt, Simonds, & Hinchliffe, 2000). One compelling concern of basic course directors is the training of speech evaluators (whether they are graduate students, adjunct faculty, or full-time faculty) to provide consistent feedback to students across multiple sections of the basic course. According to Morreale et al. (1999), consistency in training, course delivery, and speech assessment ranks among the most important issues facing basic course directors. We agree with Morreale et al. (1999) that, "Given the premise that more than one section of a course is available, students must be confident that, no matter the section or instructor, they will get essentially the same course of instruction" (p. 24). In fact, it has been our experience that inconsistent speech assessment is a major source of student frustration. Therefore, communication educators must explore the ways speech evaluators are trained to assess student speeches in order to develop effective and consistent rating procedures and to ensure a common student experience across sections consistent with the philosophy of a general education program. In addition, this type of research addresses the concerns of scholars like Sprague (1993) and Book (1989) who argue that scholarship regarding pedagogical practices unique to the discipline of communication must be at the forefront of the research agenda.
Given these concerns, the purpose of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of speech evaluation procedures and measures. Specifically, this study examines the relationship between rater training, the use of a criterion-based assessment tool, and evaluation fidelity--a concept which focuses on the efficacy of evaluation training and criterion-based assessment. Although previous studies have examined the effectiveness of various speech communication skill measures (speech evaluation forms), few, if any, have investigated how speech evaluation training and the use of a specific set of criteria can be used to enhance the effectiveness of such evaluation instruments. This research uniquely contributes to communication education scholarship by investigating the context and content of speech evaluation practices.
SPEECH EVALUATION PRACTICES
Communication educators should take a fresh look at the ways we assess speaking performance in the basic course. It would be profitable to carefully consider how we train raters, the kinds of assessment we encourage, and the level of shared understanding about speaking criteria between raters and students. …