Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Who Assesses the Assessors? A Review of Assessing the Teaching of Writing: Twenty-First Century Trends and Technologies

Who Assesses the Assessors? A Review of Assessing the Teaching of Writing:
Twenty-First Century Trends and Technologies

Dayton, A. E. (Ed.). (2015). Assessing the teaching of writing:Twenty-first century trends and technologies. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.

by Way Jeng, Washington State University

Assessing the Teaching of Writing:Twenty-First Century Trends and Technologies examines the performance of teachers. That is to say, it offers methods to investigate whether curricula are taught so students learn the material and are well-positioned to perform. The scholarship of assessment in writing studies generally looks at the performance of students, the achievement of learning outcomes for entire programs, and helps to define the curricular values of educational institutions. This volume addresses the missing middle link in the assessment chain: the teaching performance of individual educators.

Over the course of the book's 12 chapters, the authors (Amy E. Dayton, Meredith DeCosta, Duane Roen, Brian Jackson, Gerald Nelms, Kara Mae Brown, Kim Freeman, Chris Gallagher Chris M. Anson, Nichole Bennett, Cindy Moore, Amy C. Kimmie Hea, Charles Paine, Robert M. Gonyea, Paul Anderson, Deborah Minter, and Amy Goodburn) discuss topics as varied as student course evaluations and teacher portfolios to administrative priorities and issues of how to assess the efficacy of writing center consultations for students.
The first half of the book looks at frameworks and methods for teacher assessment. These chapters offer clear methods from those who have already implemented the discussed programs, along with a discussion of each method's validity construct. The second half of the book steps outside of the classroom to examine the larger institutional and administrative context of teacher assessment. The authors in this section show awareness that concerned teachers and administrators may perceive the assessment of teachers may as unfair, punitive, or otherwise designed to hurt teachers. Here, the emphasis on formative feedback of teaching, rather than a summative or purely evaluative frame, is very welcome.

The volume's third chapter, Amy E. Dayton's "Making Sense (and Making Use) of Student Evaluations," presents the use of student course evaluations. This is the most logistically-straightforward method of teacher evaluation for many institutions simply due to the ubiquity of student course evaluations. Administrators likely already have years of data already collected. Dayton provides a detailed discussion of validity concerns surrounding course evaluations (i.e., Can our students be relied upon when they are not experts on the subject matter themselves?), as well as a framework for interpreting student comments in course evaluations in the context of programmatic learning outcomes statements.

Cindy Moore's chapter, "Administrative Priorities and the Case for Multiple Methods," encapsulates one of the main argumentative threads that permeates each chapter: No one assessment can adequately describe an activity as rich and varied as teaching. Using multiple methods allows stronger conclusions to be drawn by triangulating data to reinforce observations. Moore further expands this core argument by discussing ways administrators can overcome the obvious issue of time practicality since more assessments and more assessment data can often mean more time. Moore suggests identifying work that can be spread between stakeholders in the assessment and strategically choosing assessment materials to ensure a complete yet concise assessment procedure.

Last Thoughts
As the volume is only around 200 pages, readers can expect that some aspects of teacher assessment will be left unexamined. For example, none of the authors specifically discuss the effects of race and class in assessing teachers, though it seems likely that race and class bear effects for teaching just as they do for learning. Because Assessing the Teaching of Writing is concise, it is a practical guide for readers who want to revise or develop their methods for assessing teachers. Rather than providing an exhaustive treatment, this text provides a foundation for implementing teacher assessment and offers clear methods to do so. Readers are therefore well-positioned to expand that base by looking at other texts that explore specific aspects of assessment to incorporate those ideas into the existent framework of teacher assessment.
As such, existing works that discuss assessment complement the book very well. Newcomers to assessment will probably want to read some of the texts referenced by numerous authors, notably Brian Huot's (2002) (Re)articulating Writing Assessment for Teaching and Learning, Linda Adler-Kasser and Peggy O'Neill's (2010) Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning, Chris Anson's (1994) Portfolios for Teachers, and Peter Seldin's (1991) The Teaching Portfolio. Assessing the Teaching of Writing is a solid addition to any scholar's collection of assessment texts. It's not so much a foray into a qualitatively different model of assessment as it is the transfer of established theory into a new context. This book helps to imagine and implement assessment of teachers in nuanced ways, and as such helps to inform an important part of the assessment of writing.


Adler-Kassner, L., and O'Neill, P. (2010). Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press.

Anson, C. (1994). Portfolios for teachers: Writing our way to reflective practice. New Directions in Portfolio Assessment. Eds. Black, L., Daiker, D., Sommers, J., and Stygall, G. Portsmouth, NH: Neinemann.

Huot, B. (2002). (Re)articulating Writing Assessment for Teaching and Learning. Logan: Utah State University Press.

Selden, P. (1991). The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotional/Tenure Decisions. Bolton, MA: Anker.