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A Common Language for Responding to Writing

connectedness (2)The following is a response to the Assessment Story Project we got from Matt, a college educator. He’s addressing the question: What assessments–other than standardized tests–might we design to ensure that all students across all districts are succeeding and that schools have the data they need to improve?

[We need] A common language for responding to writing, beyond a set of copyeditor’s symbols. Any way of coding — and quantifying — certain moves in writing or other performances that was somewhat standard across all practitioners in one domain would put greater emphasis on teacher assessment of student performance without requiring teachers to all use the same assessment.

I might be biased, but I do think teachers are better equipped than a test with standard questions to measure performance.

A standardized response system need not be the only thing a teacher provides as assessment, but it would at least allow for some comparison between individual grades or courses. (E.g., “Danny’s written responses to narrative in his English class are using many more analysis statements than they did last year. His History teacher would really like to see him do more Analysis than Summary, so we should figure out what’s prompting the change in English.”)

“Literacy” is just such a huge word! There’s so much in it! Students can be fully literate, competent writers, but a lack of technological literacy could set them back on digital standardized tests. Students can be fully literate, competent writers, but a lack of test-taking literacy (e.g., not devoting too much time on a specific problem, understanding what answer the test wants versus what can be rationalized, knowing where to accept lost points in order to devote energy elsewhere) can get them a failing COMPASS score. Students can be fully literate, competent writers, but fail an “objective” writing test (e.g., “In 5 paragraphs, explain why you should get some concert tickets”) because they don’t have an audience to write to or any real purpose in making the argument the prompt asks for.

The best literacy assessments take the student’s and the assignment’s contexts into account.