ERIC Identifier: ED328606
Publication Date: 1990-12-00
Author: Chapman, Carmen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation
Washington DC., American Institutes for Research Washington DC.
Authentic Writing Assessment. ERIC Digest.
In view of the role writing plays in people's academic, vocational,
social, and personal lives, the development of students' ability to write
is a main priority of schooling. Since educators can use writing to stimulate
students' higher-order thinking skills--such as the ability to make logical
connections, to compare and contrast solutions to problems, and to adequately
support arguments and conclusions--authentic assessment seems to offer
excellent criteria for teaching and evaluating writing.
This digest discusses some of the ways authentic writing assessment
can be used in education. Using the Illinois Writing Program as an example,
this digest also looks at some of the goals, solutions, and experiences
of a program that is implementing authentic writing assessment.
EMERGING IDEAS IN AUTHENTIC WRITING ASSESSMENT
New directions in authentic assessment are aimed at getting beyond writing
as an isolated subject unto itself. The goal is to integrate writing into
the teaching of all subject areas, including science and mathematics. For
example, if mathematics instructors have students write explanations for
their procedures for solving problems, the instructors can evaluate the
students' ability to perform the task without relying solely on the correct--or
incorrect--numerical answer to measure achievement.
Literature teachers can use authentic assessment to help students discover
the natural connections in understanding various themes, importance of
settings, character development, comparisons, and contrasts of ancient
and modern story plots. Students' writing in response to reading is one
of the most valid indices of whether the student has been able to derive
meaning from the text. Many believe that traditional multiple-choice response
formats cannot duplicate the thinking and constructing necessary to evaluate
a piece of literature.
THE FORMAT FOR AN AUTHENTIC WRITING ASSESSMENT
An authentic writing assessment should reflect various types of writing
as well as levels of complexity related to the task assigned in the prompt.
For example, a writing assessment assignment can be:
* totally open-ended, where the student is asked to construct an essay
either requiring or not requiring certain background knowledge
* limited to specific components of the writing process, such as planning,
outlining, or even revising
* used for short answers which may be either a part of planning or an
abbreviated check for a basic understanding of key points
Assessment formats are also related to the amount of time one has for
An increasingly popular format is portfolio assessment, in which students
complete a body of writing over a prolonged period of time. Portfolios
typically include several types of writing, and teachers consider a student's
entire portfolio--not just single assignments--providing a more naturalistic
approach to teaching and evaluation. As with authentic assessment programs
in general, the drawbacks to portfolio assessment include technical issues
of reliability for applying criteria across students and time.
AN EXAMPLE: THE ILLINOIS WRITING PROGRAM
The founders of the Illinois Writing Program are philosophically committed
to integrating instruction and assessment. To accomplish this, their assessment
* representing defined writing skills, status, and growth,
* verifying that the methods used to construct, conduct, and verify
the assessment meet technical standards, and
* implementing an information network for classroom and district personnel
to use test results to improve instruction.
To give a descriptive profile of a student's command of fundamental
techniques of clear writing, the program has a rating system with the following
* Focus: Is the main idea, theme, or point of view clear and consistently
* Support/Elaboration: Are arguments and conclusions adequately supported
* Organization: Is the logical flow of ideas clear and connected?
* Conventions: Are standard English conventions (spelling, grammar,
punctuation) properly followed?
The assessment also produces a focused, holistic score Integration which
reflects how well the composition as a whole accomplished the assignment.
This rating system emphasizes stages of development and avoids pejorative
classifications. For example, writing at the lower end of the scale is
described as "not being developed" rather than being "poor" or "weak."
The Illinois Writing Program which presents assessment results as a
score profile is also designed to help teachers determine areas of instructional
need. By instructing teachers on the use of the scoring system for assessment,
the major emphasis becomes defining what the teacher expects students to
be able to write.
TEACHER INVOLVEMENT IN THE PROGRAM
In Illinois, teacher workshops are held to teach the system as a model
that may be modified to meet classroom needs. Participants are given an
overview of the assessment system and then are introduced to each analytic
feature. The teachers then practice scoring sample papers that represent
the full scale of underdeveloped to developed writing. Teachers must not
only understand the assessment, but also adapt their teaching methods to
help students prepare for it.
Five years after the program began, more than 1,000 teachers have been
trained with the writing assessment model. Survey and anecdotal information
from the trainers indicate that teachers are overwhelmingly supportive
and enthusiastic about the workshops and information tools they receive.
This is especially true for elementary teachers who, for the most part,
have never received instruction in teaching writing beyond grammar, spelling,
and the Palmer Method of penmanship.
Positive results occur in writing instruction not only because teachers
have received information that they can use in their classrooms, but also
because they are in charge of the training. They have a vested interest
and ownership in the entire project. Teacher trainers explain to workshop
participants not only the mechanics of the system, but also the ways in
which they have adapted and adopted the system for their own students.
Chapman, C.W., Fyans, L.J., Kerins, C.T. (1984). Writing assessment
in Illinois, Educational Measurement, 3, 24-26.
Chapman, C.W., (1989). Teaching to the writing test is O.K.: Integrating
classroom instruction with assessment, Excellence in Teaching, 6, 9-11.
Chapman, C.W. (1991). Write On, Illinois! Springfield, Illinois: Illinois
State Board of Education.
Illinois State Board of Education Student Assessment Section (1991,
in process). Results of the 1990 language arts assessment, Springfield,
Illinois: State Board of Education.
Quellmalz, E.S. (1984). Toward successful large-scale writing assessment:
Where are we now? Where do we go from here? Educational Measurement, 3,