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1 T he D evel o pment o f S ch o larship ab o ut W riting C enter A ssessment 1 William J. Macauley, Jr. After most of the writing center assessment workshops, sessions, and talks Ellen and I have done together, participants have shared their high levels of frustration with not finding scholarship to support assessing their writing centers. Coupled with the increasing assessment pressure that so many writing center directors (WCDs) are feeling, these worries have only escalated. Workshop participants have often found little scholarship on writing center assessment in the usual library databases . Another concern is that the scholarship on writing center assessment is interesting but doesn’t really answer the right questions. These frustrations make writing center assessment increasingly problematic, even as the pressure mounts to develop, conduct, and complete meaningful writing center assessment. If we step back from these particular conversations, though, this has been a field-wide issue for some time. In fact, the frustration and confusion surrounding writing center assessment has been a concern for WCDs for several decades. Back in 1982, Janice Neulieb pointed out that the first problem in evaluating a writing center is that: there is no established method for going about the evaluation. . . . The director is faced with the prospect of creating a new research design that somehow anticipates all the possible questions that will be asked by those who read the finished report. (227) This is apparently still true for many WCDs. Assuming that the concerns Ellen and I have heard directors voice are at least minimally representative, it seems as though the field has not yet overcome this problem. 1. Any reference not included in the bibliography at the end of this chapter can be found in the annotated bibliography at the end of the book. 2    BUILDING WRITING CENTER ASSESSMENTS THAT MATTER In fact, because WCDs are now moving out into their campuses and participating in institutional discussions and decision making, this limitation is more frustrating and becomes a higher stakes issue for the center and its director. Inexperience with assessment also becomes “a weakness ” in the director that is easier for others to see. Making the right assessment choices seems even more important now that assessment is more than a campus conversation but also a public and political one. However, there actually is quite a bit of writing center assessment information that directors can use to educate themselves and think through their own assessment plans and procedures. Thirty years ago, Mary Lamb (1981) surveyed all of the writing centers she could find (120 at that point) in order to find out what assessment practices were most frequently in use. She identified basic counting, questionnaires, pre-/post-tests, external evaluation, and professional staff publication/ activity as the most frequent writing center assessment methods, findings that share a great deal in common with the bulk of practices we hear and read about today. A year later, Joyce S. Steward and Mary K. Croft, in The Writing Laboratory: Organization, Management, and Methods (1982), wrote: A lab director can choose from several kinds of evaluation: internal (reactions of tutors and tutees), school or campus-wide (reactions of referring faculty and departments), and external (use of a professional consultant); and can collect data through questionnaires, surveys, interviews, discussions, and case studies. (92) Stephen North (1984), only two years later, argued that “writing center research has not, for the most part, been formal inquiry by which we might test our assumptions. It has tended to fall, instead, into one of three categories,” which North identified as “reflections on experience ,” “speculation,” and “survey” or questionnaire-based methods (24–5). James H. Bell (2000) reiterated this critique more than a decade later: “Writing centers should conduct more sophisticated evaluations” (7, emphasis original). While North named three specific methods that seemed to dominate writing center research in the 1980s, Bell’s comments in 2000 suggest that the sophistication of writing center research methods had not progressed. Reflections, speculations, and surveys may have become so familiar, so commonplace, that their appropriateness or limitations aren’t even questioned anymore. And these common understandings among professionals in the field may have removed the need The Development of Scholarship about Writing Center Assessment    3 to explain why these methods figure so prominently in the way we track the successes of our centers and push our centers to grow and change. For the WCD trying to understand and choose assessment methods, the absence of such discussions only...


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