Assessing Basic Academic Skills in Higher Education: The Texas Approach

By Richard T. Alpert; William Phillip Gorth et al. | Go to book overview

Measuring Writing Skills Using the Process Model

Edward White

When writing researchers, textbook writers, and teacher trainers talk about writing instruction these days, someone is sure to come up with the latest catch phrase: Writing is a process not a product. Since this slogan, like all slogans, embodies an entire complex of attitudes and approaches, I will be using it as the underlying idea of this presentation. I intend first to examine what writing teachers and researchers mean when they say that writing is a process and then to consider the implications of that meaning for the measurement of writing ability. I will be concerned with the relationship of measurement to teaching and with the ways changes in teaching must affect concepts of measurement.


The Shift in Approach

In the first place, it is important to notice that a major change in writing research and writing instruction has occurred during the last generation. Numbers of scholars, describing this change, have turned to Thomas Kuhn's metaphor for scientific revolutions and called it a "paradigm shift," though other scholars have argued that the change is so based in the rhetorical tradition that such elaborate terminology is unseemly. The product/process distinction surely overstates the opposition that is involved in the change, but nonetheless puts the issue in stark relief. Briefly put, this change has shifted the teaching of writing into the same context as the teaching of critical thinking and problem solving and somewhat diminished the role of writing as an agent of social stratification. I will not take time to trace the causes of this change here, but I will mention a few contributing factors: the onset of open enrollment in the City University of New York in 1970, research in sociolinguistics and dialectology demonstrating the value of variant dialects, heightened concern for racial

Edward White is professor of English at California State University at San Bernardino and author of Teaching and Assessing Writing, published in 1985.

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