Friday, January 16, 2009

Topic: Assessing Writing Skills

10-second review: “There are only two methods for assessing writing skills: direct (essay testing) and indirect (multiple-choice testing).” p. 478.

Title: Review of Assessing Writing Skill. Hunter Breland, et al. (New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1987, 128 pages). Reviewed by K L Greenberg, College Composition and Communication (December 1988), 478-480. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Note the publisher. By using statistics and research, seeks to promote indirect assessment (multiple-choice testing) over essay testing. “The authors state over and over again that the reliability of essay test scores is ‘bleak,’ ‘low,’ and a ‘severe problem.’ ” p. 479. (Note: At the time, 1987, most writing assessments by the College Board were indirect, i.e., multiple-choice tests).

Comment: I highlight this review to show how political issues in teaching English can be. I don’t know what the College Board is saying now (2009) that essay testing is a significant part of the SAT Verbal Section. Another approach to writing assessment is the portfolio, but, of course, portfolios don’t lend themselves to the College Board’s quick test and quick-grade methods. Besides, portfolios involve as much instruction as assessment. And what about rubrics in which specific standards are described for good, average and poor writing? RayS.

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