Ball, “Expanding the Dialogue on Culture as a Critical Component when Assessing Writing”

Ball, Arnetha, “Expanding the Dialogue on Culture as a Critical Component when Assessing Writing” (33 pages) AW

Ball confronts, like others, the ways that writing assessment designs have excluded the voices of teachers, but specifically for Ball, she is centrally concerned with the too often exclusion of voices of teachers from diverse backgrounds about how best to educate children of color. Ball first considers why it may be important to seek out the voices of teachers of color when it comes to assessing students of color, and to illuminate what teachers of color might contribute to the assessment of writing from divers populations, she looks to the responses of four teachers of color and charts out patterns of thinking.

To begin Ball notes that white, liberal instructors of writing often assume that “to have very high expectations that are made explicit to students through instructional and assessment practice is to act against liberal principles, limiting the freedom and autonomy of these students subjected to their explicitness” (359). Because of these anxieties, these teachers “move toward indirect communications concerning expectations and writing assessment in their classrooms. Teachers often do not give explicit instructions or clear criteria for grading” (360). This lack of clear criteria, thus, is to the detriment to students who thus lack clear expectations to build their projects. In fact, these teachers avoid the whole question of AAVE—there exists a tension between whether such language patterns should be considered an error or a culturally influenced variation in the students’ writing style? As Ball notes, this lack of familiarity becomes a problem for assessment because teachers are without the context to assess such writing (see: Whithaus).

In Ball’s study, she compares the scores that two groups of teachers—one set European American and the other African American—assign to European-American student papers, African-American student papers, and Hispanic American student papers. The results of the comparison indicate that African-American teachers had given consistently moderate ratings to texts written by all students, regardless of their ethnic or linguistic backgrounds—where European Americans demonstrated a hierarchy that privileged European-American students (identities of the student projects were not made known to the teachers prior to scoring sessions). Ball specifically is interested in this discrepancy: what is it that African-American teachers are noticing that others do not? What claims about assessment are they operating with?

Ball had founds that African-American teachers set higher expectations and standards as a means of developing students’ full writing potential: “in the African-American culture, it is often felt that teachers who have low expectations for their students are denying them opportunities to learn how to participate and survive in the world” (369). As such, these teachers root their ideas about assessment and pedagogy in their connections to their students’ cultural experiences: “either by themselves being members of the same community or by integrating cultural references of connectedness into their institutional practices” (370).

In looking at what African American instructs want from assessment, it appears that they are much concerned with writing skills pertaining to mechanical accuracy and expression of ideas. On one hand, the emphasis of accuracy is in reaction to the ways their writing will remain in continual scrutiny and held accountable for their demonstration of writing abilities in these areas; however, on the other hand, these instructor’s primary focus is on the ideas students are trying to express through writing. This latter focus would require assessment policies that account for a wider range of expressions and genres rather than a narrow range of specific forms. Curriculum and assessment should not be, in the words of one teacher, “disembodied”: or, defined, “assessment that has no purposeful meaning for the student being assessed…we must design assessments that reflect concpts and contexts that are valued by this population” (376).

To conclude, Ball reiterates that assessment has often privileged the measurement community which requires specialized knowledge to have any stake in assessments development, design, construction, and implementation. As such, teacher have been made to feel inadequate in their assessments and have had their teaching and assessment mandated by outside entities. However, by including the voices of teachers of color, we can better privilege or at least account for the cultural contexts of student’s backgrounds in their assessment.

 

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