Huot, (Re)Articulating Writing Assessment for Teaching and Learning

Huot, Brian. (Re)Articulating Writing Assessment for Teaching and Learning (228 pages)

Chapter 1: (Re)Articulating Writing Assessment

Huot’s rearticulation of writing assessment is in reference to his desire to place teaching and learning at the forefront of how we think and theorize the purposes of writing assessment. In this process, he advocates that those closest to teaching and learning—teachers and students—should be the force that makes the important decisions about student assessment. “Using writing assessment to promote teaching is one of the most crucial messages in this book” (2); thus, his explicit focus will certainly be on the impact of assessments across the network of writing environments of which assessment is apart.

In charting out impact, he notes that assessment often has large impact on student disposition and self-concept of themselves as writers: “I am often aware of the great impact my judgment about writing could have on a particular student or the entire class. I also understand that the attention students accord my judgments is not unrelated to my role as the grade-giver in the class” (5). As he writes, “grades are a totalizing evaluative mechanism” (6). Thus, we must consider how we articulate our judgments on students writing much in the same fashion as we consider critically the features we use to judge writing itself: both have “profound effects upon student sand their ability to succeed” (6).

Accordingly, Huot defines assessment as consisting of [A] “the judgments we make about student writing ability,” [B] “the form that these judgments take,” and [C] “the context within which these judgments are made” (7). As Huot writes, “assessment is a direct representation of what we value and how we assign that value” (11). Accordingly, changing any aspect of assessment will ultimately change what we will value. For instance, “An agenda for assessment that recognizes it as an important element for social action allows us the ability to guard against over-privileging the values, gestures, and customs of certain groups and provides assessment with the potential to become an agent for progressive social change that includes and highlights the improvement of educational environments and opportunities for all students’ (9). But further, as Foucault writes, assessment also plays a role in disciplinary formation: “if we don’t test for something it will disappear from the curriculum” (11).


Chapter 2: Writing Assessment as Field of Study

The field—and study—of writing assessment is part of two disciplines: educational measurement community and composition studies. The isolation between these two disciplinary communities has not been productive: “writing assessment scholarship occur sin two academic forums, the lack of connection between the two is a notion that we have yet to address in writing assessment literature because this literature has been written and read by those within a specific field who have little or no knowledge or interest in the other approach” (25). Thus, writing assessment has been defined by the tension between two disciplinary paradigms, “often in conflict about what constitutes appropriate writing assessment” (29). In this chapter, Huot attempts to look at point of isolation and connection in two histories of writing assessment provided by Yancey and White.

In particular, Huot notes that Yancey’s history notes that the second wave of writing assessment was dominated by validity; however, Huot is hesitant to agree, namely, he attributes this oversight to Yancey’s “disciplinary affiliation” that isolates her “from the scholarship on reliability and its connection to holistic scoring and other direct writing assessment procedures” (37). In other words, holistic scoring was still a product of reliability rather than validity. Moreover, he also notes the different understands of validity itself. Where composition studies sees validity referring to the question of whether a test measures what it purports to measure, educational measurement refers validity as “an integrated evaluative judgment of the degree to which empirical evidence and theoretical rationales support the adequacy and appropriateness of inferences and actions based on test scores or other modes of assessment” (Messick qtd in Huot 49). Put another way, validity focuses on impact of the decisions and actions that are taken based on the assessment. In the case of writing, the test must meet the unified version of validity under the construct validity framework: how does the assessment define the construct of writing and what will the impact be on this particular construct. In this way, Huot notes the highly contextual nature of this unified version of validity: we should not declare validity of a particular assessment practice (e.g. holistically scored tests or portfolio), but rather looking the contexts of the particular use of a test.

But also, “advances in knowledge about reading and writing have fueled advances in assessment of student writing. …’we need to develop a conceptual framework for writing assessment that reflects our current understanding of writing’” (Camp 59 qtd in Huot 41).


Chapter 3: Assessing, Grading, Testing, and Teaching Writing

At the core of the book are two assumptions that undergird Huot’s approach to assessment:

  1. “One assumption is that in literate activity, assessment is everywhere. No matter what purpose we have for the reading and writing we do, we evaluate what we read and write on a fairly continuous basis” (61).
  2. “The second assumption is that being able to assess writing is an important part of being able to write well. Withou the ability to know when a piece of writing works or not, we would be unable to revise our writing or to respond to the feedback of others” (62).

In other words, to ignore assessment’s link to composing—the teaching and learning of—is to misrepresent the writing process. From these assumptions, he makes a distinction between assessment and grades, namely that grades (unlike assessment) “involves little to no learning or teaching” (62). But further, the conflation of assessment and grade, likewise, would erase the assessment of values involved in the writing process.

It is Huot’s stand to involve students in the assessment process as a way to teach writing: ‘Unless we teach students how to assess, we fail to provide them with the authority inherent in assessment, continuing the disjuncture between the competing roles of student and writer” (67). However, he notes that many students entering college may be “ill-equipped to make the kind of evaluative decisions about writing which our pedagogy expects and often enter writing courses with strict, text-based notions of how to judge writing” (67).

Huot continue to explain that assessments have impact on teaching and learning regardless of whether such a connection is intentional. IN this way, citing Wiggins, Huot notes that “the often-condemned practice of teaching to the test is only wrong because of the nature of our tests” (75).


Chapter 4: Toward a New Theory of Writing Assessment

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Chapter 5: Reading like a Teacher



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