Effort to Assess Student Writing

July 24, 2017

ABSTRACT: In an effort to assess student writing in a way that reflects current views of writing (i.e., as a social process supported by the interaction of a number of cognitive sub-processes), and yet still seeks to determine what students can do independently, it has become a common practice to include timed essays in student portfolios. However, this practice adds to the already heavy cognitive load, identified by Hamp-Lyons and Condon, that the assessment of portfolios places on readers.

As writing has come to be seen over the past fifty years as a social process supported by the interaction of a number of cognitive sub-processes, and writing instruction has changed to accommodate and address this altered perspective, writing assessment has also evolved.

Kathleen Yancey identifies three waves of writing assessment over the course of the last five decades, and views these waves from multiple perspectives.

In one view, she describes the waves in terms of a shift in the methods through which writing assessment is defined: objective tests (1950-1970), holistically scored essays (1970-1986), and portfolio and programmatic assessments (1986-present). However, she acknowledges that these waves could be framed in terms of other shifts and tensions, such as between reliability and validity, assessment by testing ex- perts and by faculty, and assessment taking place outside of and within the context of the classroom (484).

Janine Graziano-King is Assistant Professor of English at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, where she also serves as Director of the Kingsborough Center for Teaching and Learning.
Extending the metaphor, Yancey notes that waves in writing assess- ment can best be described as “overlapping…with one wave feeding into another but without completely displacing waves that came before” (483). One such overlap can be seen in the practice of incorporating both timed essay exams and portfolios in the assessment, a practice motivated by the complementary information provided by the two assessment methods (White 34).

On the other hand, however, as noted by Liz Hamp-Lyons and William Condon, the inclusion of a variety of texts in a portfolio also has a cost, potentially encumbering holistic portfolio assessment to the point of undermining the assessment process (180). Here, I suggest a different model of writing assessment—the self-revised essay—which, I argue, captures the best of both portfolio and timed essay assessments.


Journal of Basic Writing, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2007 75, Janine Graziano-King.

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