Assessment in Writing

The 42nd Annual TESOL Conference (2008) is coming up soon, April 2-5, in New York City. Thursday afternoon, I'll be presenting along with three others on assessing writing . If you're coming to the conference and interested in assessing writing, here's a breakdown of what we'll be talking about.

I'll be looking at how to help students in higher education learn to evaluate their writing, reflect on their writing, and take appropriate measures to improve their writing by

  • embedding assessment in the course objectives,
  • providing transparency in evaluative criteria, and
  • considering both product and process.

Basically, having students use the instructor's criteria for assessment gets them thinking in those terms, seeing more clearly course expectations, and hopefully giving them an understanding of assessment they can take with them after leaving our classrooms.

Multi-trait rubrics
John Liang will review a multi-trait rubric that assesses basic academic writing skills of incoming international graduate students in an MA TESOL program. Based on previous years’ assessment results, the rubric focuses on select component skills of academic writing (ability to comprehend the prompt, development of the argument, organization, grammar skills) instead of overall academic writing proficiency.

Techniques of assessment
Tim Grove provides a survey of techniques used to assess writing, including methods that minimize grading time, while remaining valid and reliable. He will examine rubrics, general comment sheets, error counting, error classification, personalized grading plans, Grade Negotiation, and even Rapaport’s “Triage Theory of Grading.” 

Online and holistic assessment
Tim Collins will review strengths and weaknesses of online and holistic assessment of writing, now frequently used on high-stakes assessments, and provide ideas on how instructors can prepare learners for success on these assessments.

In all of these, we make certain assumptions. Assessment

  • should reflect objectives,
  • be transparent to students,
  • be fair and effective,
  • provide feedback to students and teachers, and
  • enable learners to self-assess and take responsibility for their learning.