Writing Assessment Histories

03 Sep

We’ve read six writing assessment histories now, each with particular approaches to the task:

  • Elliot (2005)
  • Behizadeh and Englehard (2011)
  • Yancey (1999)
  • O’Neill, Moore, and Huot (2009)
  • Huot and Neal (2006)
  • Penrod (2005)

In a Burkean sense these histories select, reflect, and deflect items according to their terministic screens. Let’s unpack some of the assumptions of each of the histories and show how the approaches construct histories of writing assessments in different ways.


Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized



6 responses to “Writing Assessment Histories

  1. brucebowlesjr

    September 3, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Huot and Neal

    -Take major myths of technology and apply to assessment
    -View assessment as technology itself
    -Writing also has to be technology
    -Psychometric testing—measurement theory led to an over emphasis on technology
    -Not connected to larger political and social history—viewing through technology, these things are in the background
    -Philosophical underpinnings somewhat neglected
    -Anti-testing; interested technology yet simultaneously critical of it

  2. andrewdavidburgess

    September 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Response to O’Neill, Moore, and Huot (2009)
    Curated by Andrew Burgess and Jason Custer


    Assessment is “involved with assigning value and making decisions about access, opportunity, and resources” (14).

    Assessment has a strong influence on the development of composition as a field of study. Classic chicken/egg scenario.

    Throughout the history of writing assessment (since the beginning of the twentieth century), writing assessment has tended to focus on reliability (consistency) rather than validity.

    “In this discussion of reliability and validity, validity almost seems like an afterthought, in some ways drawing upon the overall history of validity in which the test authors were the supreme authority about the validity of their tests” (25).

    “In a very real sense, writing assessment history can be seen as a reliability-driven march to more consistent (reliable) scoring…” (19).

    The face validity of holistic scoring and portfolios means that they, in fact, are more valid ways to assess (than standardized testing).

    This history is constructed in terms of a march toward greater reliability, mentioning questions of validity as having been first taken up in the 1920s and being largely thought of as “best left to the test writers” until the 1950s, in which “the focus of validity shifts from the accuracy of a measure to its value” (31). We see this shift in thinking about validity-as-theoretical as a movement from questions of “does this measure something?” to “does this measure something of value?” Still, validity is often conflated with validity.

    In their conclusion, the authors call for (1) stronger locally based assessment; (2) greater power for teachers to call into question the ways in which writing is assessed; (3) a greater push toward studies of validity of assessment methods and away from over-focusing on questions of reliability as the sole “problem” of writing assessment; and (4) active work by WPAs and writing teachers to “create a productive culture of assessment around the teaching of writing and the administration of writing programs” (34) in order to create a better future for writing assessment.

  3. amypiotrowski

    September 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    From Amy and Sarah

    -tension between assessment and computer technology: new style of writing in conflict with old methods of assessment
    -composition classroom needs to adopt computer technology
    -adopting computer technology is inevitable: compositionists will adopt technologies and assessments it or it will be done for them
    -Assessment can only remain unchanged if society and technology remain unchanged
    -technomyopia and technophobia
    -conventionality and change
    -use of term “convergence” – “the blending of several technologies into a single source”. We think “blending several technologies into single environment” works better.
    -push back against behaviorists models

    Important Events:
    -Penrod fits timeline into Saffo’s “30 Year Rule”
    -Defines her own historical moment by the 30 Year Rule
    -Timeline mentions electronic and computer technologies: IBM’s Markograph system in the 1930’s, Apple’s introduction of the Mac computer in 1984, electronic portfolios in the late 1990’s, ETS’s computer essay scoring in late 1990s
    -Fact she uses a timeline shows a linear way of thinking

  4. DB

    September 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Elliot (Jacob and David)

    • Individual figures in context
    • Measurement
    • Attempts at “objective” assessments
    • Movements that surrounded and enabled individual figures
    • Less “measurable” assessments (that came about as a result of disciplinarity)
    • Disciplinarity
    • Race and class (until the early 2000s)

    In the “Lone Wolves, 1966-2005” chapter of the Elliot text, we see an emphasis on key figures. As suggested by the title, these figures tend to be described as if isolated from prevailing social movements, and separate from movements in assessment studies. There is a clear interest in constructs of measurement. For instance, Paul Diederich touted testing testing student writing with multiple samples, distributed between morning and afternoon (186-192). These constructs aimed at a kind of objectivity in writing assessment that would more problematic in contemporary assessment scholarship.

    On the other hand, the chapter screened out certain contextual factors, such as the movements that surrounded and enabled individual figures, and less “measurable” assessments (such as portfolios) that came as a result of disciplinarity. Notably absent until the discussion of No Child Left Behind, additionally, are mentions of race and class.

  5. jeffnaftzinger

    September 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Erin,and I covered Yancey’s article “Looking Back as We Look Forward.”. In her article, Yancey traces the history of writing assessment through the three “waves” that the field has undergone up to 1999 (when the article was written). The first wave was objective tests, the second on holistically scored essays, and the third on portfolio assessment. There are quite a few lenses that Yancey could be looking through in this essay. she acknowledges that there are many lenses, but lays out five in particular: Method, validity/ reliability, struggle between testing practitioners and faculty, its movement into the classroom, and the self (132).

    In the beginning of the article Yancey mentions that she’s looking through the history of writing assessment using these three waves as lenses. But, she her history is still necessarily shaded through her preference for the third wave: assessment through portfolios. Because of this, she focuses more on the positive effects of the third wave (the ability for the writer to construct his/her selves, etc.), and less on the negative; conversely, she focuses more on the negatives of the first two waves.

    Yancey’s negativity to the first two waves is also effected by the fact that her “construct of writing assessment… [is] rhetorical [a] act that is both humane and ethical.” She also says that these previous two waves were using an invalid construct of writing assessment. Her view of the right and wrong constructs of writing assessments, casts a negative light on the previous two waves which she would probably argue dehumanizes the writer in order to increase reliability.

  6. profkelp

    September 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    In “Historical view of the influences of measurement and writing theories on the practice of writing assessment in the United States,” Behizadeh and Englehard don’t just focus on a single screen, but the synthesis of three screens (measurement theories, writing theories, and writing assessments) and how those perspectives work (or should work) in concert with each other to create writing assessment practices that are equitable, valid, and reliable (among many other things). The authors explore the possibility of a separate field of assessment that culminates into an independent discipline itself with its own theories and research questions that drive assessment practices. The article traces the components and shifts in each perspective in the 20th century, but also the authors explore how each perspective has the potential to shape each other and the implications involved in having each perpsective speak across disciplinary boundaries. Through this method of tracing writing assessment practices through these perspectives, the authors allow us to see how some perspectives take (and have taken) precedence over another–particularly, how politics and power affects the preference of measurement theory over writing theory in creating assessment practices. -Joe and Kendall


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