Calebís Response: 10/11/2011

I apologize in advance for this rant, but a few issues in the readings really grind my gears! The texts by O & M, the CCCC, and Agnew and McLaughlin? deal primarily with the assessment processes at work in basic writing, albeit from different perspectives. Agnew and McLaughlin? highlight the plight of the African-American basic writer and the association between black vernacular and error, the CCCC attempts to outline acceptable ways of assessment, and O & M gives the historical problems associated with assessment, and in many ways seem to acknowledge that assessment methods often have implications on pedagogy (which is a whole other issue in basic writing scholarship). One point stood out the most in all three texts, standardized assessment strategies do not work, they mislabel students (especially those with culturally different backgrounds), and they create confusion in the classroom, where teachers look to teach based on the pedagogy advocated by their fields scholarship, while simultaneously needing to prepare studentís for a standardized test, which often is the deciding factor in school funding and even teacherís performance reviews. Case in point, standardized testing is the Devil, is inherently short sighted, doesnít lead to improvement, and is not a method supported within the field of basic writing, or composition studies entirely.

So, why am I bothered with this information; after all, this issue has been around longer than Iíve been planning on teaching, as standardized testing existed before I was even born. My problem is simply this: as a field, we know standardized testing is ineffective and unnecessary, but what are we doing as a field to change this problem? Yes, many scholars have taken up the study of basic writing and basic writers, with thousands of conclusions on who they are, what they can or canít do, and how best to teach them; however, many scholars only focus on basic writing within the academy, giving little emphasis on how to handle basic writers before they step foot on college campuses. Also, a lot of basic writing scholarship is quick to point out problems with standardized testing and the field of basic writing, yet few actually provide logical solutions to the problem. Often they just make the field more confusing, never address concerns like error, focus on only error, or just repeat the same arguments as their peers. Again, the main commonality I saw in the readings was that most of these problems have been exacerbated by standardized testing, which limits teaching methods, coverable materials, and is not a true measurement of writing ability. Again, my problem is this: besides research, what are composition and basic writing scholars doing to correct this problem besides regurgitate old arguments?

The CCCC put out a position statement on what is acceptable assessment practice. I applaud the effort; however, what type of an impact did they expect to make. Sure people in the field of English treat the CCCC as a holy book, but besides individuals in the field, who else knows of this position statement. Scholars produce countless articles focusing on basic writing and basic writers, but who other than people learning or studying basic writing actually read these documents, and in the case of some scholars (sorry Haswell), who outside the field can even decipher the meaning of this scholarship. Scholars always make it seem that doing research and publishing represent attempts to make changes, but I disagree. Sure, they can change the climate of the field, but outside of this group, what changes have our scholarship really instigated? With the amount of intelligence and writing ability in our field, you would think we could have a bigger impact regarding the political position and implications of education. After all, as rhetoricians we are supposed to be capable of making language fit our whims, our voices, our styles, and our motives. In the case of basic writing, instead of trying to take out a negative aspect of it, such as standardized testing, we only look to sidestep it, avoid it, or ignore it. Sure, we raise our pens, send articles to journals that advocate the demise of standardization; however, we stop short of real significant change.

Iíll let my rant end on this note, otherwise Iíll be going on for hours. I just feel that with the amount of intelligence (Haswell, Elbow, Connors, Rose, etc) and writing ability, that our field can do more than just research, but rather enact meaningful change.