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Chapter 4 Assessment “[C]lassroom teachers, more than anyone else, are actively and continuously involved in evaluation.” (Genesee & Upshur, 1996) “The problem is fundamentally that any language performance that is worthy of interest will be complex and multidimensional.” (Skehan, 1984) “[T]he susceptibility of language to precise measurement seems to be in direct proportion to its fragmentation.” (Horowitz, 1991) “[T]he traditional direct test of writing, the one-hour (or less) time and the unprepared topic in the stressful conditions of the examination room, is only a partial indication of what a person can do in writing.” (HampLyons , 1991d) “No one can make a trustworthy judgment about a student’s skill or ability in writing without seeing multiple pieces of writing, written on multiple occasions, in multiple genres, directed to different audiences, written in more or less realistic writing conditions.” (Elbow, 1994) “Liking and disliking seem like unpromising topics in an exploration of assessment. They seem to represent the worst kind of subjectivity, the merest accident of personal taste. But I’ve recently come to think that the phenomenon of liking is perhaps the most important evaluative response for writers and teachers to think about.” (Elbow, 1993) 112 L E A D I N G Q U E S T I O N S • What purposes does assessment of writing serve? • What are some of the basic problems we face in making fair and accurate assessments of students’ writing? • What are the issues surrounding notions in writing assessment such as reliability, validity, objectivity, and subjectivity? • What ethical issues are implicated in writing assessment , particularly of L2 students? • What alternatives are there to traditional assessment in L2 writing classes? Introduction to the Issues Many of the decisions that both L1 and L2 writing teachers make in their classes revolve around assessment of students’ writing. Assessment activities and schemes pervade the broader system of schooling as well. Indeed, in most countries assessment of all kinds, not just of writing, is such an inherent part of the whole enterprise of schooling that it is difficult to imagine doing without it. Because a culture of assessment is built into the schooling enterprise, teachers rarely ask whether they need to assess their students. After all, the system often starts, continues, and ends with entrance, placement , progress, and exit assessments and examinations. Not all teachers are happy about the culture of assessment they are immersed in. But regardless of individual teachers’ opinions and beliefs about assessment, if students are to be given a grade or admitted into or released from a class or program, their ability or performance usually needs to be evaluated. Rather than recommending wholesale overthrow of assessment schemes, therefore, most teachers ask instead how their Assessment 113 students can be assessed accurately and fairly. The issue of accurate and fair assessment of student writing probably constitutes the major dilemma in both the L1 and L2 writing fields, and I will discuss the specifics of some of the controversies later in this chapter. But first, let me highlight several key questions that L2 writing teachers need to consider as they reflect on their own beliefs about assessment and as they plan writing and assessment activities within their own classrooms . Most of these questions ultimately link to issues of accuracy and fairness. Early in the decision-making process, writing teachers and administrators need to be clear about what they mean by assessment . Consider the following terms: assessment, testing, measurement, grading, evaluating. All are related yet refer to different aspects of assessment (perhaps the broadest of the terms). By giving some kind of test, we can measure something and then assign a grade or a score. We can also evaluate students’ writing in a variety of ways that may or may not result in a grade or a score. In the general language testing field, Bachman (1990) distinguishes among the terms measurement, test, and evaluation. Measurement refers to “the process of quantifying the characteristics of persons according to explicit procedures and rules” (p. 18). A test is a measurement of a “specific sample of an individual’s behavior” (p. 20). Evaluation refers to collection and perusal of information for the purpose of making decisions about people (p. 22). It is possible to evaluate without testing, just as it is possible to test without evaluating. Tests, Bachman points out, may be used as part of instructional activities, such as to motivate students or to review past lessons. Hamp-Lyons (1991c) and Bailey (1998) refer to the effects...


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