Writing assessment evokes strong passions (Bernstein 372). INDEED! Assessment is so incredibly difficult; it takes time, energy, and ethics to assess students correctly. Writing teachers do not have the luxury of a black and white world / of a right or wrong answer. Grading is just as personal as writing. Teachers decide how to grade a student, and, if your way is different, it doesn’t make their way wrong, necessarily. When I read: “The psychological impact of the message that they are failures as writers and, ultimately, as students, is extremely damaging” in Agnew & McLaughlin?’s chapter, I immediately thought about a teacher who gave students negative grades on their essays due to all the grammatical / usage errors in that student’s paper (98). Each error was worth 5 points. High school students! To me, that is ridiculous! The teacher has since stopped grading that way, but the damage is already done to the 300 plus students she treated that way.
I don’t ‘harp’ on grammar at first. For the first quarter or so, I grade, strictly, organization, voice, and style. I do not like when students are mocking birds. I want to hear their interpretations, not mine reworded. I think when we begin pointing out and labeling errors, we begin communicating that there is a right way and a wrong way to write / that there is good writing and bad writing. I do not like teaching grammar over voice and style. I do not like teaching grammar because it is so taxing and overwhelming and most importantly because it shuts kids down. If teachers can listen to the linguistic diversity that is illustrated in students’ papers, they would be entertained and, possibly, they may not feel so overwhelmed with grading.
I found it interesting that of the four parties responsible—students, faculty, administrators, and legislators—faculty, as always, have more ‘shoulds’ than the others. Under the “Students should” category, number four is the most poignant: “[students should] have their writing evaluated by more than one reader, particularly in ‘high stakes’ situations” (Bernstein 377). Agnew & McLaughlin? report that the “1995 CCCC Writing Assessment position statement recommends that ‘…one piece of writing—even if it is generated under the most desirable conditions—can never serve as an indicator of overall literacy, particularly for high stakes decisions’” (Otte and Mlynarczyk 87). As with many theories, the assumptions are interesting and make sense but they are only suggestions, they do not change legislation or practice. I agree 100 per cent that a student’s ability or inability should not be categorized based on a single piece (regardless of the stakes). It is not practical in regard to the day to day writing assignments teachers assign, but it would be much more accurate for tracking the student’s progress.
The narrative essay (the ‘TAKS’ essay) is so pervasive in standard and lower level English classes. “The common assumption…is that assessments functioned as constraints on teaching, shaping expectations and even curricula” (91) is not just an assumption; it is fact. ESL students, standard students and even honors students are taught how to write a narrative essay. I agree with the articles and most teachers that the narrative is the best essay for a student to write because it is easy to connect to; however, it does not require high / deep level thinking, and a lot of students don’t learn any other type of essay, ‘’’only’’’ the narrative. Unfortunately, in the classroom and in legislation, students are not the “agents of transformation”; they are subjected to statistics, labels, and simplifications. There is not enough space for their individuality.