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AF T ERWORD Translating Assessment Brian Huot and Nicole Caswell While Ellen and Bill graciously asked us to read and respond to this volume , we must confess that our response does not attempt to evaluate or improve upon the volume. One strong set of impressions throughout the reading of the volume and the drafting of the response revolves around the crucial role assessment plays for an institution and the identities of the people who make the writing center one of the most effective places for learning on a college campus. The status and position of most writing centers make their assessment a scary process for writing center staff and administrators. Often lacking the generation of FTEs or stable revenue streams like those reserved for tenure-track lines, writing centers appear vulnerable during a time of economic woe and turmoil. On the other hand, as this book demonstrates throughout, assessment can also provide writing center professionals with a voice in the conversations where decisions are made from assessment evidence to argue and secure more resources and institutional commitment. This promising aspect for assessment as a powerful discourse that can promote, document, and protect writing centers drives much of the work we do with writing teachers and program administrators (including writing centers), focusing on understanding how to read, write, and talk with authority and expertise about writing and writing program assessment. It seems to us that what we have been attempting to do in teaching a usable assessment process is to translate assessment discourse for teachers and administrators to use for their own purposes. This volume might be seen as an assessment-translation discourse for writing center professionals . Our role here, at the conclusion of this particular translation, is to help readers understand the connections we see between what writing centers assessment can become and the work of assessment for practitioners and administrators in academic programs—seeing these chapters Afterword     163 as translation discourse or seeing translation as a metaphor for writing about program assessment to an audience of writing center professionals. Translation implies two distinct languages, and any substantive understanding of language includes some deliberate effort toward understanding the contrasts between the cultures those languages represent ; this is why just memorizing the dictionary, grammar, mechanics, and usage of a new language won’t mean someone can actually communicate in that language. Likewise, learning the words and definitions associated with assessment is necessary but not sufficient to a full discursive membership in assessment. One of the enduring issues for many people trying to write this kind of translation discourse is to make sure that an audience of non-assessment people can understand assessmentrelated ideas, terms, and concepts with which they might not be very familiar. Perhaps even more importantly, the translation of assessment principles should also ensure that writing center administrators can actually use new assessment information to create effective assessments, which in turn helps them to make the most of their centers. This might seem pretty straightforward, though we have found the task to be more complicated and potentially more important than just tailoring assessment concepts for professionals in a particular field or area of composition studies. For example, during the coauthoring of a translation-type text for nonspecialists in writing assessment, we remember an e-mail conversation in which one of our coauthors argued for extended attention to examples and definitions of rubrics. Our coauthor maintained that it might be hard or impossible for us to understand that some folks did not know what a rubric was. Of course, this was not really accurate since in our work with colleagues in program administration we often explain such rudimentary concepts; further, it became apparent to us that we were as knowledgeable about our audience as our coauthor. The real issue was the kind of conversation we and our coauthor envisioned having in the essay we were writing together. Our coauthor wanted us to focus more on explaining and giving examples of rubrics, and we resisted this focus because we believe it only reinscribes a mistaken assumption by those just learning about assessment: that making and using rubrics (or mastering any assessment technology like statistics or interrater reliability, etc.) should be a primary concern. After all, knowing a single assessment instrument in great detail doesn’t mean someone understands how to use assessment to her writing center’s advantage. 164    BUILDING WRITING CENTER ASSESSMENTS THAT MATTER In helping faculty design assessments, we often argue against the use of rubrics altogether, since there...


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