Condon, “Reinventing Writing Assessment”

Condon, William. “Review Essay: Reinventing Writing Assessment: How the Conversation is Shifting” WPA 34.2 (Spring 2011): 162-182. (20 pages)

Condon’s review of writing assessment books published in the last 15 years outlines what he sees as “the second conversation of modern assessment,” one that primarily centers on the merging of the classroom practices with writing assessments.

Early in the history of writing assessment, teacher’s judgments about students were not deemed useful; however, as teachers became gradually involved in how we assess writing ability, the assessment practices began to change—for example, from indirect to direct, and, most notably, toward portfolio assessment. In other words, teachers’ main concerns were with the validity of these tests. The question of validity forwarded the cause of authentic tests of writing in two ways: first, calls for validity prompted administrators to consider how the assessment matches with the construct (writing); second, composition scholars questioned the impact of these assessments on classroom curriculum. However, as teacher’s stake was in the validity of such assessments, the expectations for commercial, institutional assessments also demanded such assessments to meet the challenge of reliability.

At the core of Condon’s review, he notes that educators and testing administrators have different motivations and goals in the assessment of writing. Administrators—such as commercial assessment organizations like ETS and College Board—are more concerned with cost-efficiency and expediency. However, it is the job of educator, and particularly rhetoric and composition scholars, to be concerned with theory and student learning: “Through the decades since, our understanding of the construct of writing has grown more sophisticated, more complex, more substantiated, and more complete. As that theoretical framework has advanced, so have the assessments we have designed. Therefore, we now have a set of practical alternatives to what is happening on the commercial side” (180).

 

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