Eda's October 11 Response <<<<<<<
The CCCC Position Statement's 10 assumptions are admirable but difficult to put into practice. Many of the assumptions go against the grain of traditional educational thought that is so prevalent in our society. Assessment and test-taking are seen as a separate, isolated event in time and are not bound by the constraints of context. Think how aghast some people would be with the implementation of an assessment that acknowledges "language by definition is social" (374) and allowed students to freely discuss the assessment at hand. I don't see this happening. At the school where I teach, I will walk down hallways looking into classrooms. Often times I see kids taking tests with these specially designed cardboard barriers set up on each student's desk. Testing done in a cardboard cubicle context. This is done to prevent cheating and distractions. The thinking seems to go that the most feared things in an assessment situation are the possibilities of cheating and distractions. Language is social but that fact must be put on hold in a testing situation. During the two days of standardized testing of 7th graders at Flour Bluff, my son and the rest of the 8th graders had to do nothing but sit in advisory all day so that the test-takers would not be distracted. The 7th graders were obliged to sit all day and do nothing while the 8th graders tested. It strikes me that testing situations are generally contextually sparse and it is in these barren spaces that students are asked to write and to think. The CCCC's position statement is an admirable theoretical ideal.
Just like writing and language, assessment which is made up of language and writing must have purpose. Assessment must be driven and shaped by a purpose. The process of assessment provides information. Is the information valid? Who is the beneficiary of this information? The student? The student body? The teachers? The faculty? The institution? The State?
Mike Brown 10-11 Response
The chapter on placement and assessment and the CCCC position statement is thought provoking. The discussion about assumptions concerning writing assessments at the beginning of the chapter has some interesting points. One point that stands out to me is the one concerning the reading and evaluation. I agree with everything pointed out in this particular section. Reading is very dependent on the person who is reading and interpreting the words. everyone reads at different levels. Personally, I am a skimmer when it comes to reading. I also agree with the section that discusses the writing assessment. On any given day, a person who is considered an excellent writer can have a bad day. If the writing on that one bad day is critical in the writer's future, then the writer could suffer as a result of one bad outing. I agree that a portfolio of previous writing should be used to assess a person's writing abilities vice a onetime assessment. Ultimately, I think that the teacher should have input into the design of the assessment that is going to be given to the students. The assessment should be an accurate portrayal of the environment that the students are in. In other words, do not give an assessment with a question concerning something the student has never been exposed to. For example, do not ask a student from Corpus Christi to write about the steps to building a snowman. The assessment should be relevant to the upbringing of the student, not just some randomly generated question. The Practices and Pedagogies chapter in Basic Writing gives us the term Practitioner. According to Stephen North, practitioners are "those identified as teachers rather than researchers or theorists" (p. 79). He further states that the "body of knowledge generated by Practitioners 'lore,' something distinct from research and scholarship…Lore is the accumulated body of traditions, practices, and beliefs in terms of which Practitioners understand how writing is done, learned, and taught" (p. 79). Otte and Mlynarczyk also discuss the initial focus of the approaches taken to error in writing. This section covers seven different teaching complications from the need for complexity to the need for consensus. Next is the discussion of assessment. The Teaching to the Test section is one I find to be the most prevalent in Corpus Christi. Teachers in certain grade levels have to prepare their students to take a test that will allow them to pass to the next grade or repeat, regardless of their grades throughout the year. This makes the prevalent part of the curriculum to be the STARR (formerly TAKS) preparation. This is, in my opinion, a waste of a better part of the school year. Sure the students are learning, but the teachers are fenced in by the curriculum without the ability to adjust to students' needs. The Teaching section covers a variety of topics such as process, cognitive schemes, strategies, and other topics. Ultimately, this section is a discussion of what is most important…the teaching of basic writers.
Kohut October 11 response
I really enjoyed reading these sections about assessment BUT they also scared me to my core because they so reminded me of the super-dramatic push that is going on in public schools around Texas now about the STAAR test. Last week we had a district meeting addressing how we as educators were going to make our teaching as rigorous as possible in order to reach the pinnacle that is STAAR success. Oh my.
In the reading by Agnew and McLaughlin? the differences in scoring according to unique language styles that remain unrecognized by the graders was unsettling to say the least. In the past I have had friends in Austin apply to grade the TAKS 7th grade TAKS writing essays for extra money. None of these friends have English or teaching backgrounds, but are college educated. They go through a training course beforehand, but now I realize that this cannot ever be enough preparation for the grading of a high-stakes test. Even as someone who teaches writing, my focus for success is ever-changing and individual versus rigid and general. How can someone with a completely untrained brain to think critically about writing ever do justice to the work of the struggling and hardworking student with a pettiness-filled review of a piece of writing that is not error free, but evokes more emotion and life than the bland student who followed the prompt with no heart or dimension?
Very long thought, I know, but these are the feelings I have about this topic that threatens to consume us as a profession and as a society. We are all saying that we are in the same place in supporting our students to be better learners and more successful, but how can that be the case if we are modifying what we know and believe in as educators to accommodate others who don’t know our language or write like us? We are making standards according to a layman’s understanding because everyone wants to judge what we do. They want PROOF. Writing is so subjective that I wonder how any two people can ever fully interpret anything at all with similarity by themselves!
This leads me straight into the piece about CCCC’s position statement on assessment. I noticed first how the position itself was formulated after many meetings and committees and member input. Will the writing exams (after they have been created by such specific guidelines by an outside source) themselves ever be scrutinized in such a comprehensive light at the University or Administrative level? Are said exams truly being constructed by these guidelines? Is that even feasible to do? If it isn’t I would be more apt to blame the test itself as it cannot be monitored under one set of expectations if it was created under another.
I will end by saying that this morning we had an English department faculty meeting at 7am with our principal. She wanted us to go over trends in the last few years in regards to certain populations struggling or finding success in our standardized testing community. Unfortunately she left the data at her house (darn) but she said we would meet again because this information could help us to address our learners’ needs, which means be more successful on future tests. I wanted to ask, “How are we going to do that?” and “What theoretical aspect of reading and writing will bring new results that are not already practiced to death-like isolated skills are?” I didn’t ask, but I hope my thinking about it puts me one step ahead of the old-school thinkers that want to find isolated problems and treat them in this artificial manner, instead seeking out and embracing the whole problem and thus the whole student.
Asseessment governs. Assessment has the power to dictate practice and pedagogy. Assessment methods can differ from one community of consensus to another. The Conference on College Composition and Communication issued a Position Statement which placed them in their own section within the entire assessment discourse. There is not a definitive or standardized method to assess a student’s writing. Just as organizations like CCCC and the NCTE create modes and position statements, instructor’s practice, pedagogy, and subjectiveness entwine to create their own positions and methods. Lore is what injects instructor’s communities of consensus.
While assessment may dictate and define practice and pedagogy, it is lore that points up the folly of fixed, standardized, solutions. In basic writing, there are no solutions. It is the stories, the lore from instructors, students, administrators that continually show how monolithic mandates of how to assess and teach can be rendered with miniscule meaning. For instance, when an administrative level third party grader is given a circumstantial chance to re-grade a paper he had deemed as lacking college level writing skill, his new assessment of the writing was a passing grade. Lore brings all the highbulletmind talk of practices and pedagogies down to earth, where the students should be the driving force, the ones that govern what and how they should be taught.
Not all is set in stone. Not even the 4 C’s Position Statement. The organization is stating its position on certain matters. The consensus within this community is derived from administrators and instructors who want to localize the ideas, practices, and pedagogies set forth by the 4 C’s. Other communities of consensus within the basic writing domain can pick and choose or agree to disagree all parts of the position statement. Many communities of consensus in the basic writing domain are formed through the lore they share with other cohorts telling of the local assessment strategies and the drain they create.
end of ed's response
Caleb's Reading Response: 10-11 >>>>>>>