Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

All Writing Assessment Is Local

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

All Writing Assessment Is Local

Article excerpt

Writing Assessment in the 21st Century: Essays in Honor of Edward M. White Norbert Elliot and Les Perelman, eds. New York: Hampton P, 2012. 518 pp.

Race and Writing Assessment Asao B. Inoue and Mya Poe, eds. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. 230 pp.

Writing Assessment and the Revolution in Digital Texts and Technologies Michael R. Neal New York: Teachers College P, 2011. 152 pp.

Digital Writing: Assessment and Evaluation Heidi A. McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss, eds. Logan: Utah State UP, 2013. Web.

It's fitting that Boston's Thomas "Tip" O'Neill is credited with the phrase that inspired my title: "All politics is local." Boston is famously, fiercely protective of "the local." Call it provincial, call it parochial-to us, our fair city is simply "the hub." (Appropriately, that moniker derives from the seat and site of our local politics: the State House, the hub of the universe.) If you don't like it . . . well, who asked you? And what are you looking at?

In truth, the politics of the local has always been a double-edged sword in Boston. Our proud resilience and don't-tread-on-me ethos-forged, we like to think, in the crucible of the American Revolution-were on full display in the wake of the 2013 Marathon bombings. (I mean, we shut down the city until we found the bastids.) But the dark side of our localism is no secret, either. It is captured in the anti-desegregationist slogans of the 1970s-"Not Here," "Fight the Power," "Hell No, Southie Won't Go!"-that, for many people, branded Boston a racist city.

The violence of the busing crisis in Boston-the rocks thrown at buses, the beatings of motorists, the flagpole used as a spear on the steps of City Plaza-was undoubtedly, if misguidedly, committed in the name of the local: community, neighborhood, home. But so was the less publicized nonviolent activism by black community organizers and parents for culturally relevant, historically accurate, high-quality public education for their kids during the two decades leading up to the crisis. And so is the work of cross-racial coalitions laboring to ensure equity, access, and quality education for all in our putatively post-segregation historical moment. The lesson we in Boston are still trying to learn, as we approach the sixtieth anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Edu- cation and the fortieth anniversary of Boston's busing order, is that "local" is not the answer; it's a question: What kind of community, neighborhood, home shall we be? Local control means local responsibility-the obligation to learn how to live well together. It means-because this is what it will take to live well together-challenging entrenched privilege and systemic racism and classism. It means recognizing that our local is interconnected with other locals from which we have much to learn.

The four books under review, like most current writing assessment schol- arship in rhetoric and composition, operate from the proposition that all writing assessment is local. This proposition does not suggest that compositionists are unaware of state, national, and international assessments or indifferent to forces operating at these levels. Rather, it posits that assessment decisions are always experienced locally-by people in the places they teach and learn. It also insists that the construct being assessed-writing-is itself a highly contextualized activity, learned and practiced by individuals and groups in specific rhetorical situations-and so assessment of it must be, too. Not least, the proposition is axiological as well as ontological: a declaration that writing assessment must be conducted by those who know something about writing and who live most directly with the consequences of assessments. Like scrappy Bostonians, compositionists don't want outsiders-policymakers, psychometri- cians, the testing industry-imposing their agendas on us.

But while these books confirm the field's commitment to the local in writ- ing assessment, they also provoke critical questions about the politics of the local as it has been practiced in our field: In focusing on our local needs and interests, have we slipped into parochialism, cut ourselves off from meaningful engagement with others who might have something to teach us? …

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