Tuesday, March 11, 2014

We Don’t Do It Because It Takes Time

Can Writing Be Assessed?

The New York Times 

The Opinion Pages 
Room for Debate 
March 10, 2014
As Euclid famously said to King Ptolemy I of Egypt, There is no royal road to geometry, your Majesty. There is no royal rubric road to the assessment of academic expository writing, K-12, either. We dont assess student writing well because, in fact, we dont want to take the trouble. We have long preferred formulaic rubricized writing which, if at all possible, we would rather have scored by computer.
The Education Testing Service, which develops and administers the SAT, says it can grade 16,000 essays in 20 seconds.With that approach, writing assessment will remain a joke, and students writing will be the kind of formulaic junk they hate and we deplore. 

The International Baccalaureate assigns 4,000-word extended essays, which are evaluated by external readers. The National Writing Board spends more than two hours on each high school history research paper it evaluates—and sends the authors a four- to five-page report. These are serious writing assessments, but it seems that consultants, pundits, school systems and most teachers dont allow for that kind of time to read and assess students’ academic writing.

As long as the English department—instead of, say, the history department—controls reading and writing, and as long as the colleges ask for only a 500-word personal “college” essay from applicants, nonfiction academic expository writing will remain probably the most dumbed-down activity in our schools. 

Better assessment of student writing is possible, as the International Baccalaureate and the National Writing Board have demonstrated, but it takes the understanding that a lot more time and effort are required if we want to do it. 

Will Fitzhugh is the founder of The Concord Review, which publishes academic research papers by secondary students.

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