Volume 1, Issue 1: Spring 2003


by Brian Huot and Kathleen Yancey

How State Assessments Lead to Vacuous Thinking and Writing

by George Hillocks, Jr.

Most states, in their statements about goals for education in the schools, talk about the need for students to learn to be critical thinkers. As part of their writing assessments, most states ask student writers to produce some sort of persuasive writing which the states usually see as involving critical thinking. If we believe that states truly are interested in students' thinking critically, then one would expect to find that the persuasive writing in the testing programs would reflect the concern with critical thinking. An analysis of the test formats (including prompt, test settings, and time available); the criteria for judging the results; and the benchmark papers that demonstrate what the criteria really mean indicates that states are not at all much concerned with critical thinking. Rather, most of the assessments examined appear designed to elicit and reward shoddy, vacuous thinking.

That Was Then, This is Now: The Impact of Changing Assessment Policies on Teachers and the Teaching of Writing in California

by Sandra Murphy

The objective of this study was to investigate the impact of changes in assessment policies on teachers of writing and the teaching of writing in California. Surveys of middle school and high school English teachers conducted in California in 1988 and 2001 when two different accountability systems were in place provided the data for the study. Results indicate that both of California's recent assessment systems have influenced what and how teachers teach, but in very different ways.

Moving Beyond Holistic Scoring through Validity Inquiry

by Peggy O'Neill

This article re-examines the research into placement that William L. Smith did at the University of Pittsburgh during the 1980s and 1990s by situating Smith's work within the larger context of educational measurement theories, placement testing, and holistic scoring. I present the series of research studies that Smith conducted into Pitt's placement test as a case study in validation inquiry, arguing that his approach serves as a model for those who direct writing assessments. The implications of Smith's research reach beyond placement into first year composition: by approaching local writing assessment needs as Smith did, writing assessment professionals not only can create more effective assessments, but they also can contribute significantly to assessment theory.

Describing the Chameleon: The Shapes and Functions of Assessment Portfolios, a review of Sandra Murphy and Terry Underwood: Portfolio Practices: Lessons from Schools, Districts and States

by Susan Callahan

Guided by evidence that portfolios have a chameleon like ability to adapt themselves to diverse environments, Sandra Murphy and Terry Underwood have analyzed eight portfolio systems that represent a range of roles formal portfolio assessment was asked to play in the late 1980s and early 1990s. To date, university portfolio systems have been studied much more extensively than those developed for K-12 students, so this volume provides much needed information about how portfolios have been used to assess younger students and their writing programs. Murphy and Underwood limit themselves to systems created in the public schools that were designed to be read outside individual classrooms. The eight portfolio systems that form the heart of the book range in size from departmental experiments to the national New Standards Project, and range in purpose from a desire to integrate Navajo culture within coursework and assessment to a state-mandated effort to hold teachers accountable for student learning.

An Annotated Bibliography of Writing Assessment

by Peggy O'Neill, Michael Neal, Ellen Schendel and Brian Huot

Welcome to the first installment of an annotated bibliography on writing assessment. Over the next several issues, we will be publishing different sections of the bibliography such as Theory, Classroom Response, and Portfolios. Our intent is to provide a resource for all those who work in writing assessment (K-college) or are looking for writing assessment scholarship. In categorizing and sectioning the scholarship, we have used theories and practices of writing assessment instead of educational level because we see a need for more crossover, especially between K-12 and college, in research, theory, and practice.