Making Classroom Writing Assessment More Visible, Equitable, and Portable through Digital Badging

By West-Puckett, Stephanie | College English, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Making Classroom Writing Assessment More Visible, Equitable, and Portable through Digital Badging


West-Puckett, Stephanie, College English


For writing teachers, the term assessment conjures a host of negative reactions as assessment is often framed as a mandate from administrators or legislators, those with more institutional power but less direct contact with students and their writing. With good reason, teachers are skeptical of assessments as top-down mandates, what Madaus sardonically labeled "manna from above" (10) because they have seen the ways that top-down assessments enable classroom surveillance (Condon; Spellmeyer), undermine student and teacher agency (Perleman; Berlack; Gallagher), and pigeonhole curriculum by privileging that which is easy to measure as opposed to that which is collaboratively valued by students and teachers (Moss; Callahan). In this context, the push for "local control" (Huot; Gallagher; Gere) has been a welcome intervention in the politics and practice of writing assessment; it has given us a rhetoric of writing assessment praxis that is grounded in disciplinary expertise and responsive to local concerns.

As part of the movement to localize writing assessment, it is true that some writing teachers have found their places at programmatic or institutional assessment tables, working with administrators to codesign and implement locally responsive assessment. Bob Broad and his coauthors' work with dynamic criteria mapping, for example, foregrounds teacher engagement with students in the work of assessment and also brings these classroom commitments to the programmatic level, norming and negotiating values and interpretations with other stakeholders. Still, local initiatives often continue to operate with a topdown logic as decisions made on the programmatic level can have constraining effects when they trickle down into writing classrooms. For example, at my own university, as part of our Quality Enhancement Plan, composition instructors worked with administrators to develop rubrics for program-level assessment of our new Writing About the Disciplines course (Sharer et al.). These rubrics were designed to collect aggregated data and measure how well students' writing samples met the new outcomes; however, the same rubrics were then required for classroom use by graduate teaching assistants and strongly encouraged for other faculty, constraining the kinds of projects students and faculty might take on for fear that the writing might score poorly on the predesigned rubric. In this case, teaching faculty members were asked to accommodate to an assessment instrument as opposed to accommodating assessment instruments to the teaching and learning context. As my university's case illustrates, a sense of instrumentality takes hold when classroom assessment is uncritically iterated and transacted with bits and pieces of leftover machinery from what started as rich democratic processes at the institutional or programmatic levels (Huot and Neal). Thus, "local control" often stops just short of classroom control and just short of engaging all teachers and all students in active, participatory, and critical negotiation of assessment paradigms.

To remove the stigma from the term "writing assessment" for classroom teachers, I argue that we should recognize the classroom as the primary site of writing assessment, making visible the ways students and teachers can and do actively negotiate writing assessment discourses, histories, values, and their own biases in this hyperlocal space. As such, this article offers a rich case study of these negotiations in my own first-year writing classroom, demonstrating the affordances and constraints of using digital badging to make visible, with visual modes, those discussions and decisions about what counts as "good" writing and who gets to decide. Borrowing from research in participatory literacies as well as social semiotics, I argue that social justice in classroom writing assessment is attainable only when students and teachers participate in assessment design, interpretation, and continuous inquiry into pre- and post-assessment conditions. …

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