Writing assessments: In their words

Experts to share thoughts about how administrators can address writing assessment concerns
By: | Issue: June, 2015
May 23, 2015

Some vendors have developed tech tools that will solve the challenges of teaching and assessing student writing effectively. We asked several experts to share their thoughts about writing assessment concerns and how administrators can address those issues. Here’s what they had to say:

Tara Ketner, implementation manager, Apperson

The greatest concern we see with assessing writing is with students not providing enough detail. Educators must concern themselves with content in the written piece as is grade-appropriate. To get students thinking about elaboration and supporting detail with Common Core, administrators should focus on helping teachers make writing a fun activity, and to get them writing consistently. Adequate PD designed to help educators incorporate writing into all curriculum areas is one way.

A potential issue for administrators is how to ensure every teacher is assessing every writing piece with the same fidelity. Setting up a system for all educators that provides the ability to score writing with a common rubric will ensure this.

Dave Clune, CEO, Educational Records Bureau

Writing is a complex and challenging performance task that requires applying analytical and reasoning skills. What works? Stimulus-based writing promptsÑrequiring students to analyze quality-level appropriate passages and write at length, citing evidence to support their point of viewÑhelps to build not only writing, but reading and thinking skills.

This mirrors real-world writing and can begin early. Rubrics articulate expectations and become the language of the classroom about writing. Quality assessments that focus on resulting data and targeting next-step instruction must be in place. Set goals, provide feedback and support revision. Supporting these efforts, at school and at home, by taking advantage of high- quality, well-researched, personalized online writing practice programs that differentiate, provide tutorials, and offer immediate feedback makes sense in 2015.

Jill Burstein, research director, Natural Language Processing, ETS

To some extent, the implementation of Common Core ELA standards may help to foster complex writing skills that are critical to producing proficient responses to writing assessments. However, the opportunities to practice writing to master different writing skills and become proficient across genres may be limited. Lack of practice and proficiency around the full set of genres on writing assessments may be problematic. Administrators can begin to address this concern by trying to find ways to introduce as much writing into the curriculum as possible in the spirit of college and workplace readiness.

Alistair Van Moere, head of assessment product solutions, Pearson

To achieve the goal of preparing students for college and career literacy standards, K12 schools must have access to tools that allow them to practice writing and reading comprehension skills. Immediate and accurate feedback is imperative. And they must ensure that teachers and administrators have a clear picture of what those standards are and the steps needed to meet them. It’s also vital administrators are able to measure the effectiveness of their instructional methods, materials and student progress.

Wink Swain, vice president of assessment systems, PEG Writing

The increased emphasis on writing and the expansion of the characteristics being assessed are generating a lot of student work that exceeds the teacher’s capacity to evaluate it in a timely and effective manner. The value of feedback degrades over time. Student motivation is likewise perishable. Web-based formative assessment writing platforms offer an effective alternativeÑnot as a replacement for teachers but as a tireless and dedicated assistant.

Elijah Mayfield, vice president of new technologies, Turnitin

With automated writing assessment, students can re-read their own writing, trying specific, targeted changes and iterating on ideas, not fixing commas and split infinitives. Teachers can see every step that a student took on the way to their final essayÑincluding the changes they made in reaction to feedbackÑwith rubric-based evaluations tracking student progress from first draft to final submission. When automated assessment is providing students help, the teacher’s role is no longer judge and jury. Instead, they’re supportive experts.

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