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6 W riting I t U p and U sing I t Ellen Schendel The greatest challenge we face in writing assessment reports is the schizophrenic task of communicating with an audience that we aren’t sure is really listening and yet holds quite a bit of power in terms of how our future is supported with resources. We sometimes feel (or know) that the reports we write aren’t being read or used by anyone. At other times, the reports feel like high-stakes documents with enormous consequences for our writing centers’ futures, and the power lies in our audience, who may know little about writing centers. In either case, our best option is to make an assessment report meaningful and useful to us, viewing the document as an opportunity to tell the story we want others to hear about the writing center. As such, an assessment report can be extremely helpful, both to ourselves and others, as we determine what persuasive stories to tell about the writing center to administrators, faculty, staff, and students, and as we determine where the writing center might go next. But to balance making the assessment report truly useful to us as directors with meeting the needs of our audience, we need to use our skills as experienced writers and rhetoricians: • Carefully presenting “good news” and “bad news” in the report, discussing each fairly and ethically in describing what our assessment findings mean. • Articulating what we do in ways that nonexperts will understand while using what we do and value to frame the interpretation/ discussion of data. • Creating a story about the writing center that is supported by the data and that is told clearly in the report. • Planning and articulating trajectories for our work and using the assessment reports to collaborate with others on individual, as well as shared, visions of where things have been and where to go next. 138    BUILDING WRITING CENTER ASSESSMENTS THAT MATTER • Using the report to inform our public communications about the writing center, such as publicity materials, writing center tours, conversations with faculty/staff around campus, and staff orientation/education. Linda Adler-Kassner and Peggy O’Neill (2010) describe in more detail—and with many useful strategies—how conducting and reporting on assessment helps us to devise frames that can change the larger discourse on assessment in our culture. After all, story-changing is more than just window dressing through language . . . it requires simultaneously conceptualizing, acting upon, and representing work thoughtfully grounded in research, method, and practices. . . . [that] must be designed and built collaboratively, with careful attention to the values and passions of all involved, through a process that provides access to all. (183) In other words, for our assessment reports to be truly meaningful and useful to us, they must be persuasive; the only way for them to be persuasive is to ensure they speak to—and shape—the conversation on assessment. Throughout this book, we have pointed to ways in which you can find points of engagement with your audience: by echoing strategic plans and mission statements in your writing center’s own documents; by building assessment plans collaboratively with the other units on your campus and in cooperation with the outcomes or identified best practices offered by professional organizations. It’s in the assessment report where your audience must be shown these connections you’ve built so carefully into your assessment plans and processes. One of the articles that has been influential in my thinking about how to speak effectively to assessment report audiences is Richard Haswell and Susan McLeod’s “WAC Assessment and Internal Audiences: A Dialogue” (1997), which is written for writing-across-thecurriculum (WAC) program directors engaged in assessment. At the time they wrote this article, Haswell was a WAC director and McLeod was an associate dean, and the advice they offer draws on these two very different perspectives of assessment report writer and assessment report reader. In fact, the article includes a dialogue in which they talk about the upcoming report that Haswell is authoring. (This dialogue is worth reading if you anticipate a resistant reader for your report and would Writing It Up and Using It     139 like to think about how you might sidestep land mines.) They point out a series of clashes that can happen over an assessment report, a few of which include: 1. “The clash between a vision of a part and a vision of the whole”; that is, what your writing center as...


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