I like everything digitized, so here's a link...I know we covered it tues, but I like to online access.

1995 4Cs' writing Assessment position statement

okay--a little late, but still here!

“Those Crazy Gates…” and “Failure…” address the failure of assessment to satisfactorily measure student’s writing ability and therefore failing students. Wow is used “failure” like a hundred times there. So, I guess that sort of evidences my take on these articles. I am still grappling with the whole notion of how SAE is a prescribed standard that alienates other vernaculars and dialects. I guess I am struggling because I was taught that way and I am trying to find a way to incorporate other dialects as acceptable discourses in academic contexts.

Basically, my understanding of these articles is that these assessments successfully bar those who do not fit the mold out of college and therefore possibly opportunities in life. Then again, I wonder if a student’s writing is engaging, reflective, and shows critical thinking but does not fit into the standard—are they also at a lesser advantage?

I liked Meredith’s analogy and her statement about using the standard as a tool to be heard…I have made that same comparison—A LA Olaf—for some of my students, but then again Dr. SWM made a very good point that we are saying then that this is “good” writing and any “other” is not. It is very difficult for me to process because there is no definitive answer. I ask myself am I guilty of trashing a paper and shooting down someone’s dreams? Have my feedback focused on this and then a student decided not to continue on and drop out of higher education therefore resulting in less opportunity…am I guilty of perpetuating this type of social Darwinism? Damn me and my dominant class!

I think that is the peupose of these essays, to make us look inward and question our practices. As Anne reflected in class today, she even wondered had she done the same. That’s a good thing. However, I don’t know what to do with the issues that were raised about assessment in general. It’s an institutional thing---I could advocate change in assessment (if I ever can manage to get that much credibility), but ultimately would that help or hamper the student in the long run? I think it was MBW shows that more than 34% of African American students placed in the basic writing that failed the exit exam and had to retake more than 3 times eventually dropped out. How does it help them to kick them out of college? Where else are they going to learn the conventions? What does this mean? That it is a successful gatekeeper? That these students were, in a sense, marginalized because of their otherness? That maybe they weren’t ready for college? I don’t know what the answer is. The Mica and Rowena show us they can write. It just may not be in the format that the academe deems acceptable. What is our responsibility to these students? How do we help (assuming that our help is needed) w/o breaking their spirit? I don’t know I keep going in circles. Assessments = bad. Discriminating against other language varieties in written discourse= bad. Gatekeeping= bad. How to help? I don’t know.


Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response Mar 8 MBW Agnew and McLaughlin?, “Those Crazy Gates…,”and TDW Harley and Cannon, “Failure”

The evaluators of the timed prompts – the gatekeepers who decide how to track incoming freshmen – are not realizing two things: first, the impact of their decision on people’s lives, and second, that they are withholding the golden key from students who only need to be taught or shown how to do something. They may believe that this is in fact their point: that the students must be taught, and that is why they place them in the basic writing course. I would argue that the errors listed as exit criteria – subject verb agreement, pronouns, punctuation (MBW 88) – can be taught in a session or two with some students and should not alone be criteria for tracking them into a semester long non-credit course.

I was appalled that the samples of Rowena’s writing in our text sentenced her to BW (pun intended), and further appalled that Mica never did pass the assessment. Rowena’s writing was better than Kyle’s initially, in my opinion; when she became boring and voiceless, she passed! “We end up helping students to write formulaically and superficially and to approach writing as pure performance rather than meaning making” (MBW 97). I would offer that perhaps the failure was not only in faulty assessment, but in subsequent teaching practices that presented such a false dilemma: either lose all personality and learn to adhere to some stylistic guidelines, and pass the “test”; or keep your voice and the errors that go with it, and fail. As a teacher, I would much rather address the challenge of Mica’s and Rowena’s writing than the challenge of writing that is boring but “correct.”

The TDW article reminded me of some churchgoers, who are pious and proud that they are “saved” yet are not loving enough to impart this knowledge to others. I want to tell some of the authors and evaluators to get their heads out and see writers who are fresh, real, making meaning, producing change, bringing to life for others their own stories. Are we not going to let them in the church doors because they haven’t had a bath? Why can’t we let them in and love them and show them where the shower is after we know their name? These evaluators seem to be critiquing the assessment tests as if the students already had the course. The spirit of their writing may be so good; give them some tools to clean it up, and the key.

The TDW authors conclude by suggesting the failure was either Mica’s or the faulty assessment, or both. I have to add a third party: those English instructors who would not just do what Mica wanted from day one, help her with her own self-diagnosed weakness – her grammar. She was a great story-teller and now no one will hear her voice. --mm

Butch’s Reading Response

'''“Those Crazy Gates and How They Swing: Tracking the System That Tracks African-American Students” by Agnew & McLaughlin? “Failure: The Student’s or the Assessment’s” by Harley & Cannon'''

While the Agnew and McLaughlin? article provided some very interesting and even disturbing statistics with respect to African-Americans and their writing assessments in higher education, I would like to have read about something that is more familiar to us here at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, an Hispanic Serving Institution, such as how writing assessments affect Hispanics and their academic careers. I would be interested to find out how our statistics compare to those for Georgia.

There were a number of quotes that both intrigued and puzzled me and one in particular read, “The speech of blacks, the poor, and other powerless groups is used as a weapon to deny them access to full participation in the society” (86). How is that the speech of minorities, the poor, and the disenfranchised hinder them when assessments are done in writing and not through speech? I’ll use my deceased father to make my point. My dad only made it to the third grade and had a terrible accent that he retained throughout his whole life. However, he pushed himself to improve his lot in life and although he began his career in Civil Service with the Navy as a janitor in the Public Works Department at NAS Chase Field, by the end of his tenure 38 years later, he was running the department and held three very important state water quality licenses. One could not tell by hearing this man speak English that his writing skills were far, far superior than how he spoke, yet they were, and even some of his philosophical writings served to encourage me to become a writer and an English scholar. I believe that how you speak and how you write are two different things to be measured by a different types of assessment. If blacks, the poor, and other powerless groups of students were to aspire to be broadcast journalist or public relation specialists, then yes, I could see how their speech could hinder them from succeeding in such a field. However, in writing, your actual voice and your writing voice can indeed be different and should be assessed accordingly.

Karen Greenberg’s contention that “most basic writing classes provide students with an opportunity to succeed academically, an opportunity they would not have had if they were mainstreamed” (85). However, I would posit that these students have already had an opportunity to succeed academically in high school by virtue of state mandated criteria, so in essence they are getting a second chance to succeed. This second chance is expensive, time consuming, and it alienates the basic writing student that in turn contributes to the dropout rates mentioned in the Agnew and McLaughlin? article.

Harley and Cannon article: The authors note that “Mica has achieved such a voice is a mark, not of a basic writer, but of an accomplished one” (405). This not to be mean, but if Mica were an accomplished writer she would not be struggling in a basic writing program. As has been discussed before in class, I believe that Mica’s writing will lead to writing successfully in the academy, but her “voice” in these writing prompts is not enough to do so not only in English, but across the curriculum as well. Harley and Cannon believe that by reading Mica’s writing to seek out what is right and not what is wrong is in itself wrong because if it is “read for what it is achieving” (405), her writing is not achieving what is expected of her in the assessment. It is great to discover such a voice as Mica has, but it will do her no good in other subjects if she does not write as the academy is expected her to do so. If I were to assess a paper written by students like Mica, I would be impressed, but disappointed that they did not follow the writing prompt instructions.

Elva's Response March 8, 2007 Those Crazy Gates and How They Swing: Tracking the System That Tracks African-American Students by Eleanor Agnew and Margaret McLaughlin?. Failure: The Student’s or the Assessment’s? By Kay Harley and Sally I. Cannon.

Just like what Balester mention, “School does not always provide an escape from racism but serves as a gatekeeping function to keep minorities in place” (10) (86). Those crazy gates have controlled the people of color. That is why people of color can not or will not continue education. We (I include myself) feel (I felt) like a failure, incompetent, inadequate and not college material. After reading all these articles, I realized that we are supposed to be controlled and that writing is the number one issue that the dominant race uses. This makes me think about baseball. Basic writing is One Out, remedial class is Second Out and grammar is Third Out. The inning is over. So they are kicked out or they drop out, forget education. Look at what happen to Shanda, how she was graded (86). Inconsistent and petty of the evaluators’ written objectives, it is not fair! Was her inning over? Whose fault?

I felt the same way as Bennie but have changed my perspective. One thing I know is that persistent and determination can cross barriers. Statistically, I believe that many African-American are lower then the Mexican (Hispanic)-Americans in obtaining a higher education but I blame society and family. I say this because I went to a middle school and high school that was about 48% Mexican-Americans and 48% African-Americans and 4% Whites. Now, look around at Del Mar and here at this university. Who is there? Who is here? Give the unprepared student a change to achieve, many are determined to succeed. …to achieve academic success, the unprepared need support and time to demonstrate their abilities” (98).

Look at what happen to Mica, she was an outspoken student, who voice her opinion but later became silent due to the inconsistent of the teacher’s opinion. Are assessments been equal? Look at Shanda the same thing happened to her. Are teachers, professors ready to listen to other voices other than their own dominant voice? “Further, our criteria fail to recognize the current controversies over the role of personal voice in academic writing and argument” (402). They have to understand everyone is different with different background experiences. They talked about rethinking assessment and they should, “First, we need to understand that assessment is complexity situated, and different audiences may require different evaluation” (413). Isn’t when writing, we need to focus on audience and that audience is different to different situation? This is my brain thinking. I do not know how to word it but we are told when we write, anything we write, we always have to focus on an audience. If we write a book, focus on an audience, if we write a research paper, focus on an audience, and always focus on an audience. Now, why can’t assessment think about audience? Make me understand.

Maybe at one time, there was one dominant culture with one gender attending higher education with one assessment but it has become a culturally diverse body of students. The assessments do not reflect this (413). So, who do we fail, the student or the assessment?

Anne Ries

I had my students do an actual free write blog today - where they could talk about whatever they wanted to. One of my students posted an "Arkansas Reading" test that made fun of southern dialects. This actually led into an interesting discussion about dialect discrimination that was completely off topic from my lesson plans, but my students seemed to enjoy it. I even mentioned some of our readings tonight about AAVE. They were surprised that AAVE is a "'systematic, rule-governed language variety, every bit as complex and sophisticated as Standard English" (Meier as qtd in Agnew and McLaughlin? 94). I think some students were just glad to hear it.

"The Exit Criteria Score Sheets list eight possible strengths, ranging from "clear communication" to "adequate length," but graders usually write in any sentence-level deficits they find: typically s/v agreement, missing verb and noun endings, pronoun, and punctuation errors" (88). If what the graders commented on were outside of the specific criteria, why were they counted? Why wasn't the essay reevaluated? If graders were counting off for things they really shouldn't have, I don't understand why the issue wasn't addressed? Does s/v agreement really affect the whole meaning of the sentence? It may be awkward, but the meaning can be deduced just fine. When do we stop focusing on grammar so much and start focusing more on content?

I was very frustrated by the fact that Rowena's essays all seemed to have more depth and character than Kyle's annoyingly formulaic essays. In the end, all of what made Rowena's essays have character were white washed out of her, leaving her with an annoyingly formulaid essay that got her passed.

The thing that kept running through my head as I discussed dialects with my students was whether or not one of the four African American students in my class' first language was AAVE, and whether or not they had been discriminated against based on that. Or my Hispanic students whose first language was Spanish...or any of my students. The most horrific thing was thinking about whether or not in some way I had unconciously did the same thing while grading their last portfolios.

"We have come to believe that a mismatch ecists between our portfolio criteria and the texts Mica produced, even texts that had been revised over the semester with our criteria in mind. We now doubt that current assessment criteria and practices can 'read' Mica's work and adequately, or the work of other culturally diverse students whom our institutions are publicly committed to educating" (402). Oh this is so furstrating! What do you do in an instance like this? Ok, cases like these, where nothing seems to fit. How do you help these individuals succeed in college classrooms after composition and basic writing classrooms (if they get that far because of the lack of assessment measures)? Even then, what if you had the proper assessment measures - what if other colleges and employers don't?

Melissa Pena

These readings seemed to focus on a large part of what we discussed earlier this semester--culture (which is synonymous with language as Anzaldua argues). What I liked, though, was that they pointed the finger at faulty assessment rather than on curriculum: "We found that it was not the basic writing course itself that negatively impacted our students' lives as much as the invalid assessment system that framed the program" (Agnew 86). I suppose the TDW article blaimed both, but anyway, it was interested seeing this issue from a different perspective. I agree with the authors that assessment on non-white students is faulty for it fails to take into account the rich nature of the language these students speak. The teacher who termed her student's language as "bad" is a perfect example of the Eurocentric attitudes that teachers hold. It is true, too, that "holistic evaluation of student writings may penalize culturally and linguistically diverse students...for preferring rhetorical patterns that differ from the mainstream academic patterns rewarded in schools" (Agnew 93). This raises a serious problem. If we change assessment from a timed test essay to portfolio assessment, but yet those assessing students' writing still look at writing as a set of rules and language that students must adhere to, our assessment will continue to be flawed.

But then I still strongly believe that it is imperative that all students learn Standard English, for as Delpit argues, it is the language associated with power. There's no denying that. If we tell students it's alright to write only in the language of their primary dialect, we are doing them a disservice. Nonetheless, we still need to appreciate and reward the diveristy and uniqueness of their language.

Also, I didn't like how Mica went into the pilot course wanting to learn Standard English but not receiving the instruction she desired. Her teachers pushed her to write creatively and to think critically, which she did, but they ended up failing her for not writing "correctly." If they wanted correctness, that's what they should have taught. So yes, assessment that looks for one thing, but instruction that teaches another is faulty as well. Sounds like we have a real dilemma.

I’m still stuck on my question from last time, so I’ll have a go at it again. I think it does relate to this week’s reading because our decisions about what to assess and why, and how to interpret and “use” the assessments are influenced by how we define writing (and, thus, how we should teach writing). Social theories of language/writing are seen as inappropriate for or inapplicable to basic writers because the students lack the requisite skills. This distinction is problematic in that implies that the nature of writing changes depending on the “level” of the writer. For “basic writers,” writing is psychological and individual; for “advanced writers,” writing is social.

If we define language and writing as social, it has pretty dramatic consequences. First of all, if language is social (as opposed to individual/psychological), what students do with, or even better, in words has to be redefined. For example, McCarthy? (2001) explains how a social theory (Halliday’s) theory of language shows that what seem like linguistic (meaning grammar, syntax, vocabulary) choices are in fact social positionings:

The choices speakers and writers make from these systems [the meaning potential of a language] are socially motivated. The choice of including a modal verb in the verb phrase, for example, is seen as a matter of the interpersonal relationship projected between participants in the act of communication; the choice of a transitive verb rather than an intransitive one, or vice versa, is seen as a choice among potential representations of the relationship between the participants and processes encoded in the clause itself.” (McCarthy?, 2001, p. 59)

Second, defining language (and knowledge) as social challenges the relationship between development and learning/teaching:

Vygotsky “[reconstructs] the role of instruction and learning so that they are conceived of as activities that ‘do not ride on the tail of development but instead blaze the trail for development to follow’ (Dunn and Lantolf 1998:419). This would seem to be the very reverse of Krashen’s view, where instruction serves the purpose of leading the learner to the next, predetermined stage of development. In the Vygotskian paradigm, instructors (or peers) and their pupils interactively co-construct the arena for development; it is not predetermined and has no lock-step limits or ceilings. […] Applied to language teaching contexts, the roles of teachers and learners are re-cast from inputters and lone receptors into a relationship of joint constructors of the territory in which meaning can be co-constructed in language the learner does not yet know.” (McCarthy?, 2001, p. 88)

Third, a social theory of writing and language must, I think, lead to a poststructuralist theory of text and authorship. Postmodern language and composition studies blow apart the neat and stabile triangle informing the encoding model:

The poststructural (re)vision, however, was more historically aware of the specificity of the contingencies of power and struggle…Discourse, for example, is now thought to achieve meaning only in ‘the concrete forms of different social and institutional practices’ (Mcdonell 12). Meaning is thereby made situational and relational. Everything depends on the specific institution where the discourse takes place; in varying contexts the same words are radically transformed to mean one thing and then another. Poststructuralism, then, decenters writing as well as the self, seeing both not as the effect of language patterns but as the result of multiple discourses already in place, already overdetermined by historical and social meanings in constant internal struggle” (Clifford, p. 40)

Instead of being distinct positions held by different individuals at clearly separated times, with easily defined and demarcated functions, the positions are two-way connectors, almost interchangeable, and the distinction between author-text-reader blurs, as does the division of labor. The act of writing, then, is strongly social not only because it is public and shared, but also, significantly, because it cannot be performed by a single individual occupying a single position.

The broadened definition of writing, challenges, or at least complicates, the familiar understanding of the writing process. Instead of being a product-generated process of stages involving skills, the writing process becomes an identity-enacting act involving a complex web of interrelated social positionings aimed at negotiating meaning in a specific context. Writing as a social act is open-ended in that it has no clear beginnings or end; the “text” is no longer the product of the process of the author responding to a pre-defined audience and purpose. Instead, the text is a stance, or position, held by all involved at two different times—the writer-subject at the point of conception and the reader-subject (co-writer?) recomposing the text while reading. Both writer and reader make meaning based on their experience with the norms, conventions, and inter-subjectal relationships of their respective discourse communities.

If our assessment methods are based on a deficiency-similarity model, the results will be predictable (and, most likely, misleading). A couple of interesting questions arise: what would writing pedagogy based on social theories of language and writing look like? What about the assessment methods?


When we talk assessment, I think that there are a lot of ideas that float up in the air about what and how we are supposed to solve "problems" that we have yet to properly diagnose. What is the best way to assess anyone on their writing? Based on how proficient one is, or if they write in a style that is "good" by someone's standards? In terms of writing, there are too many factors that go into writing to decide on one stand alone piece on whether or not the student is proficient. This is not a math placement test in which there is a right and wrong answer, if anything, it is a somethign that bears consideration. When we tell students that they cannot write, aren't we keeping the cycle going? Aren't we just reaffirming what they think writng is--evil?

<<<<<<< I like the idea of a portfolio sequence in the TDW book because the student is being graded on other aspects of writing. The idea of a Pass/fail thing is also interesting because students have to demonstrate certain abilities. All errors are not created equal. "the work that remains for the profession is to determine the place of those unacceptable styles witihin an institutional setting, within an institution with its own style of being right, its own habitual ways of thinking and writing" (405). I guess this goes back to the idea that do we do assessment based on region? Or is it even possible to have assessment based on an across the board standard?

This also goes along with the article, "those crazy Gates and How they Swing: Tracking the System that Tracks African American Students" in the sense that David Bartholomae asks whether the profession or the students best served are those who "maintain a distinction between 'basic/normal' writers and attempt to standardize student voices" (85). it's all well and good to say, "yay, let's mainstream everyone, but is it really what is in the best interests of all these schools? Isn't that making too much of an assumption? Race is always a factor in school. However, it seems that we aren't really paying attention to region, and only seeing the race card.

-Erica Rangel

Harley and Cannon

One aspect of the reading that stood out to me, for some reason, is the way that they format their portfolios. I attended this university as an undergraduate, and now teach as a graduate, so the portfolio process that we implement here is very familiar to me. I think that it lacks something--the students become robots after their first portfolio and turn in the same portfolio 5 times after that. I think that by using a portfolio like the one outlined on page 403, the different elements might elicit more respect.

Also, according to the assessment guidelines (CCCC), we are supposed to assess student writing according to what they did instead of what they didn't do. With the portfolio set up that we currently have, we are only really analyzing one piece of writing that has been revised for about 5 weeks. If we, perhaps, turned in only one or two portfolios that contained multiple pieces of writing, it would be easier to assess the writing according to what the students are doing.

As for Mica, I liked her writing. I think that there was a definite personality to her writing, and to judge it based on the guidelines from previous writing classes did her an extreme injustice.

While I still have a huge bias against the assessment guidelines that we hold most students' writing to, I understand the need for assessment. However, in the same way that we are told to judge how to teach basic writing or the needs of the student based on individual cases (i.e. which college we are at, make up of student population, etc.), I think that assessment needs to fit both the class, the university, the instructor, and the student.