Dawn Boeck - 10/11/11 response

The CCCC Position Statement on Assessment (1995) does an admirable job of defining the general principles that should underlie all writing assessment. Although admirable, these principles are ideal – in applying these principles to assessing the standards of incoming freshman students, for instance. How could the state of Texas possibly assess every exiting high school senior with a writing portfolio assignment, designed, graded, and implemented by well-trained instructors and educators? Perhaps this is not actually so far-flung… maybe I am just being pessimistic… but I can only imagine the endless meetings, objections, and issues that would come with implementing this “new” type of assessment across the state. I doubt the state of Texas would turn its education policies over to the governing of local school districts and/or universities. It almost feels like we have come too far on the poorly designed assessment train to turn around and choose a new and better form of transportation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort.

We should take the time to focus on the “axiomatic” principle of purpose in creating, implementing, and discussing assessment. What is the purpose of the assessment? In the case of entering college freshman or exiting high schools seniors, the purpose is to measure college-readiness. Then we need to ensure that these assessment tests are taking an accurate measure of these skills, traits, characteristics, and/or qualities. The CCCC statement emphasizes the point that “there is no test which can be used in all environments for all purposes,” suggesting that assessments be localized (374). By this standard, the ACT, SAT, THEA, TASP, and other standardized tests are pedagogically unsound and potentially harmful to the development of students, especially BW students. Agnew and McLaughlin? offer their own experiences with assessment tests used in the state of Georgia. Building on research in the field, they found that “a poorly designed assessment system is destructive when it determines who should or should not exit noncredit courses” (96). We have seen other examples of these destructive tendencies in the stories offered by Mike Rose. In Agnew and McLaughlin?’s study, they found that African American students whose written language indicated traces of AAVE were more likely to fail and repeat remedial courses or drop out from school altogether. In concluding, Agnew and McLaughlin? suggest we should look more closely at the assessment systems we use and support if we truly want to reach all students.

In considering the CCCC position, Agnew and McLaughlin?’s study, and similar case studies around the nation, I think that it is important to closely examine the systems of assessment used within the state of Texas (and around the country). If “the means used to tests students’ writing ability shapes what they, too, consider writing to be,” (CCCC, 376) we can only blame ourselves when students produce texts which mimic these standards and/or expectations (or, the creator of assessments – but we support them, implement them in our classrooms). We need to create better assessments, instruments that can be utilized in appropriate ways rather than manipulated into abusive systems of exclusion.

O&M offer an extensive overview of the practices and pedagogies of Basic Writing throughout its history – sectioning it into the topics of error, assessment, and teaching. O&M’s discussion of error brings up the interesting point that it has, more or less, been abandoned by the field of BW. Finding no definite procedure to remedy error in BW students, educators in the field have been/continue to be left to lore, defined by Stephen North as “the body of knowledge generated by practitioners” (79). Perhaps it is just my interpretation, but it seems like lore is viewed as a negative - but I view it as having the potential to be as good as research in understanding the local context of one's own students (this could connect back to Rose and Haswell). Lore offers the instructor information on what has worked in the past, and while this should not be the definitive input, it is a good starting point. In the overwhelming world of teaching (especially if you are a new teacher…), lore can make teaching a bit more accessible and less intimidating.

O&M makes the important observation that students are also left in a state of uncertainty during these transitional times for BW, vulnerable within an education system that no longer knows or understands how to deal with them. As four-year institutions close their BW programs and two-year institutions absorb them, the gap between the faculty at these institutions grows wider. O&M explain that this is problematic for BW programs and the BW population because many of these instructors lack an adequate research base to effectively understand and teach these students. In the discussion of deciding what the most appropriate practices and pedagogies are for BW, we can forget the most important part of the equation – BW students.