In the previous post, I described a situation in which the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium invites educators’ collaboration in reform, but the actual opportunity for collaboration appears to be limited. In this post, I’ll explore one way of responding to the situation.
While the Digital Library is not available, I did find other available materials. SBAC does post its performance tasks for k-12 writing.
This performance task for 11th graders presents multiple readings on financial literacy and asks students to identify information in one reading that supports or counters claims made in other readings. Then, the task asks students to summarize and synthesize the readings for an audience:
“In your economics class, you are discussing the importance of making smart financial decisions. Your teacher tells you that, in some districts, students are required to take a financial literacy class before graduating. Your school board is hosting a meeting to decide whether to offer such a course for graduation, and wants students to contribute their perspectives.”
The task is to write a “multi-paragraph argumentative essay” in which students must “establish an argumentative claim, address potential counterarguments, and support your claim from the sources you have read.”
The performance task resembles many researched argument assignments in high school and college. But as the NCTE Guideline “Beliefs About the Teaching of Writing” explains, our approach to such tasks usually acknowledges the need for this writing to be purposeful.
That is, we recognize that a professional writing occasion—like the essay to the school board attendees—depends on an actual exigency. Exigencies shape genre: how many people report to a meeting in essay form?
This kind of question gets at the point Gallagher makes, which is the need to remake the scene of assessment. The interrelationship of genres and social context is removed from the SBAC’s occasion for writing. So how might educators rearticulate writing to its social context? One way is to invite parents to explore the nature of writing for testing contexts alongside writing for social purposes. This approach, to use Adler-Kassner and O’Neill’s phrase, not only says what we want but also shows the cost of accepting what we don’t want. In other words, our attention to genre and the social nature of writing demonstrates the grounds of our professional standing. These grounds are not just our professional expertise; it is also our responsiveness to public experience with writing. That responsiveness, I believe, is what Adler-Kassner, O’Neill, Harrington, and Gallagher are all concerned with, although they seek to demonstrate that responsiveness in different ways. Exploring the act of assessment suggests one way educators can respond when the venue for response is non-existent. In other words, we can find ways of “collaborating” in reform when there is no occasion for collaboration.