Inoue & Poe, Race and Writing Assessment

Poe, Mya, and Asao Inoue. “Introduction.” Race and Writing Assessment. NY: Peter Lang, 2012. 1-14. (14 pages)

Inoue and Poe’s book considers the ways in which issues of race and racial identity manifest in classroom and large-scale writing assessments. To being, they offer a series of baseline definitions that help outline the scope of their discussion.

Beginning with assessment, t occurs “whenever one person seeks and interprets information about another person” (Ruth and Murphy, qtd in Inoue & Poe 3). Writing assessment, in particular, looks to obtain information about a student’s abilities in writing. However, they specifically look to assessment technology to refer to the system, environment and agents that comprise an assessment. Conceiving assessment as technology “allows us to always acknowledge explicitlty the shaping effects that various racial, socioeconomic, gender, and other sociocultural and sociopolitical formations have on any writing assessment” (4).

Race “is a social and political construction that has created and sustained human hierarchies and domination, ones we have not fully escaped, and that often inherently provide (or withhold) valued” (4). Culture refers to which refers to the common practices and “the way practicing groups talk about their practices” (4). Culture is something that is constructed from within a group while race is “socially constructed by external institutions, agents, and groups” (4). Seeing race and culture as interchangeable reduces race to relativism and ignores the “racialized, social, historical, and institutional structures that construct the lived experience of all students, teachers, and stakeholders” (4).

Ethnicity is a bit looser of a concept. Where some have described ethnicity as rooted in a stable features of one’s identity, i.e. common decent based in heredity, others see ethnicity as socially performed process that is constantly in flux (allowing some to identify with different ethnicities based on marriage or preference). As the authors point out, there may be two issues in using ethnicity as a guiding term to discuss writing assessment: “using the term ‘ethnicity’ tends to place everyone…on the same footing “ (5). Each group has different relations to power, different distances to the prestige. Also, ethnic terms change over time.

Given these issues with focusing on differences in culture and ethnicity, they see the focus on race as more primosing and illuminating a framework; however, they concede that focusing on race will also have their own issues: oftentimes, references to race can be ahistirocal and essentialists. They suggest, rather, we consider looking to racial formation: “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhibited, transformed, and destroyed” (6). As they write, racial formations speaks to the historical precedents of racial formations and “acknowledges the social construction, the formation, of race by forces in history, local society, schools, and projects—such as writing programs” (6). As such, it doesn’t essentialise.

Racism, in the context of racial formations, thus, concerns itself with the unequal or unfair outcomes that structure our assessment technologies “and the interpretations that we make form their outcomes” (6). IN other words, the question is centered on the systems and technologies in place that form and construct race. For instance, writing assessments’ construct of writing ability often reflects or is associated with dispositions that are historically linked to whiteness.


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