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Volume 2, Issue 2: Fall 2005


by Brian Huot

What Teachers Say About Different Kinds of Mandated State Writing Tests

by Peggy O'Neill, Sandra Murphy, Brian Huot and Michael Williamson

This article reports on a study of the impact of the form of high-stakes, state-mandated writing tests on high school curricula and teaching practices. Through surveys and focus group interviews of high school English teachers, we addressed two main questions: How do different kinds of high-stakes, statewide assessments impact writing curriculum and instruction in secondary schools? and What are teachers' views of the impact of different kinds of high-stakes tests? We conducted our study in three states--California, Georgia, and Kentucky--each with a different type of writing test at the time of the study: multiple choice, timed impromptu, and portfolio, respectively. The survey results contribute to the growing body of research that indicates the forms of writing tests influence what teachers teach and how they teach it. This influence was complex with significant differences across the three states in the types of assignments, the length of assignments, number of drafts, and the amount of time allowed for assignments. Our results also indicated that the form of high-stakes writing tests also impacts teacher morale and attitudes.

Berlin, New York, Baghdad: Assessment as Democracy

by Beth Kalikoff

Free speech and participatory democracy have come under siege in the post-9/11 world and the aftermath of the U.S. attack on Iraq. To remain active participants in deliberative democracy, we are responsible for protecting our own rights and those of others. Those rights include the right to voice opinions, especially but not exclusively dissenting opinions, in public arenas. In this article, I propose assessment as a form of participatory democracy, both within and beyond the classroom. This view of assessment articulates a foundational understanding of agency and deliberation. Developing the concept of assessment as democracy will help us to practice our practices in ever-widening circles of purposeful civic engagement. The classroom represents a site where teachers have daily responsibilities and immediate impact. Assessment is a way for teachers to discover what their students know--and don't know--and how they learn. Moreover, assessment allows teachers and students to see additional perspectives, to dissent and respond to dissent, to deliberate as a community. Knowing what has value and what doesn't is an essential component of using assessment to write and communicate in a participatory democracy. Soliciting and listening to student voices results in teaching and learning that is truly student-centered. Practicing what we teach, we may find that citizenship, literacy, and agency intersect in the classroom for us as well as for our students, in the necessarily untidy and challenging work of deliberative democracy.

"What Are You Thinking?": Understanding Teacher Reading and Response Through a Protocol Analysis Study

by Anthony Edgington

This article discusses results of a semester-long study on how composition teachers read and respond to student writing. Using protocol and textual analysis, along with interviews, the study focused on composition teacher reading strategies and what influences these teachers as the read and respond to student writing. From analysis of the data, I found that composition teachers employed multiple reading strategies while responding to student texts, and these strategies were often influenced by contextual factors related to the classroom, student-teacher relationships, past preparation in the teaching of writing, and nonacademic influences. I argue that the field of composition needs to devote more attention to how teachers read student papers and how these readings influence the comments we offer to students about their writing through stronger teacher preparation programs and by expanding our dialogues about response to include a focus on how teachers read student papers.

Testing the Tests, a review of George Hillocks: The Testing Trap: How State Writing Assessments Control Learning

by Susan Callahan

The Testing Trap is more than a catchy alliterative title; it is an apt metaphor for the situation currently experienced by America's K-12 teachers who find themselves pressured in both subtle and painfully obvious ways to teach to the expectations of state writing tests. In this meticulously crafted volume, George Hillocks, Jr. analyzes the writing tests used in Texas, Illinois, New York, Kentucky, and Oregon in order to demonstrate their influences on classroom instruction. By choosing states with widely differing writing tests, he is able to reveal how each test shapes the concept of "good writing" within the state that uses it. Although Hillocks' analysis of the evidence from these five states strongly suggests that most current state writing tests promote neither good writing nor good writing instruction, the real value of this volume lies in his thorough exploration of the reasons for these failures.