Thursday, November 17, 2016

CFP for a Special Issue of the Journal of Writing Assessment: Politics of Pathways

Call for Papers
Special Issue of Journal of Writing Assessment
Politics of Pathways: Articulation Agreements, Graduation Requirements, and Narrowing of Curricula
Diane Kelly-Riley and Carl Whithaus, Editors
The Journal of Writing Assessment solicits articles that address the multiple ways in which writing assessments interact with high school graduation requirements; articulation agreements across high schools, community colleges, and four-year universities; and, students’ pathways through postsecondary education.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have reshaped secondary English Language Arts (ELA) curricula across the United States. Through the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments, as well as through changes to writing assessments in states which have created their own assessment instruments or rely on commercial products, the CCSS have shifted writing curricula towards a greater focus on connections between provided informational (i.e., nonfiction) texts and the writing that students produce on these formal assessments.

Passing these CCSS-influenced ELA assessments are now graduation requirements in many states, which has lead to articulation agreements that require at least their public community colleges--if not their state-level comprehensive universities and/or flagship research institutions--to acknowledge high school graduates as “college ready.” That is, according to the policies set by many state legislatures, high school graduates should not be placed into remedial writing courses but should enroll in first-year composition courses. In addition, there has been a growth in dual credit, early college initiatives, AP, and IB programs. These all shift aspects of developing college writing skills into secondary schools.

At the same moment high school graduation requirements are being shaped by CCSS and articulation processes among high schools, community colleges, and universities are changing, there is a robust debate emerging around the pathways students take through postsecondary education, particularly through community colleges. In Redesigning America’s Community Colleges (2015)​, Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars, and Davis Jenkins have mapped out a reform plan for improving America’s community colleges. Their “guided pathways” model has been critiqued by UCLA’s Mike Rose (2016) who argues for allowing students multiple chances, multiple “blunders” and “transgressions” as they explore opportunities at postsecondary educational institutions. For Rose, Bailey et al.’s model is too limiting; it excludes students who opt to enroll one course at a time, to develop their occupational and academic trajectories in ways that fit within the messiness and complexities of their lives. National efforts led by nonprofits and philanthropic organizations with strong legislative support--like Complete College America and the Gates Foundation--are moving to change and restructure pathways into higher education. Their emphasis on lowering credit limits for postsecondary general education requirements, structuring students’ schedules, standardizing advising requirements, and limiting courses students complete within disciplines to specific “pathways” all have the same effect of removing disciplinary diversity, student choice, and faculty autonomy. Again, writing assessment instruments and practices are central players in discussions about pathways into and through postsecondary education.

Needless to say, these policy changes are affecting community colleges and four-year universities as well as secondary ELA instruction. Understanding the roles that writing assessments are playing in relationship to students’ pathways through postsecondary education is a necessary and timely research endeavor. Writing assessment instruments are at the fulcrum of these practices.  

JWA calls for articles in which researchers, teachers, and administrators respond to the dynamics around current high school graduation requirements, articulation processes, and efforts to facilitate students’ paths through postsecondary education. Writing assessments play crucial parts in determining “college and career readiness,” in placing students into basic or first-year writing courses, and in providing guidance or constraints as students move along their pathways to completing postsecondary education. Understanding the dynamics around these writing assessments, particular on local or state levels is an essential undertaking. It will add immense value to the research literature and to practices that impact not only writing assessment but also curriculum and instruction at the high school and college levels.
The Journal of Writing Assessment invites manuscripts that explore the following: How are secondary teachers revising their teaching methods? How are community colleges and four-year universities shifting their writing placement practices? How are the placement agreements working? Where are there problems with them?  We seek articles that examine how writing assessments interact with:
  • high school graduation requirements;
  • articulation agreements among community colleges, comprehensive state universities, as well as public and private research universities; and/or,
  • students’ paths through postsecondary writing curricula, particularly those influenced by guided pathways models proposed by Bailey et al.

We are interested in manuscripts from a variety of viewpoints including, but not limited to, empirical, historical, theoretical, qualitative, experiential, and quantitative.
For inclusion in JWA 10.1, proposals (200-400 words) are due by Feb. 17, 2017. Please submit your proposals to journalofwritingassessment@gmail.com.  Full drafts of articles will be due by May 30, 2017. Queries may be addressed to the JWA editors, Diane Kelly-Riley and Carl Whithaus, at journalofwritingassessment@gmail.com.   

For more information, visit JWA online http://www.journalofwritingassessment.org/.

References
Bailey, T., Jaggars, S. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A
clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
Rose, M. (2016). Reassessing a redesign of community colleges. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved

from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/06/23/essay-challenges-facing-guided-pathways-model-restructuring-two-year-colleges

Monday, November 14, 2016

JWA at NCTE in Atlanta, GA November 17-20, 2017

Journal of Writing Assessment will be at the upcoming 2016 NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta, Georgia later this week!

On Friday, November 18, attend session C.23 from 12:30-1:45 pm for the rountable discussion on "Impacts of the Common Core State Standards Assessment on Secondary and Postsecondary Writing Instruction" in room B301.

This roundtable examines the impacts of the CCSS assessments on secondary and postsecondary students’ learning and writing, continuing conversations begun in last year’s Journal of Writing Assessment (JWA) Special Issue. The roundtable makes connections between research and advocacy work about educational policies, writing assessment, and curricula. 

The session will be chaired by JWA Editor Carl Whithaus, University of California, Davis.  Several of the authors of articles in the Special Issue will provide perspectives for discussion.  

Roundtable Leaders include Doug Baldwin, Educational Testing Service; Angela Clark-Oates, California State University, Sacramento; Brad Jacobson, University of Arizona; Duane Roen, Arizona State University; and Carl Whithaus, University of California, Davis.

Kathryn Mitchell Pierce, St. Louis University, will be the respondent.

If you would like to talk with Carl Whithaus during the NCTE conference, email him at cwwhithaus [at] ucdavis [dot] edu to arrange a meeting or you can tweet him at @carl_whithaus. 

Alternately, we're always looking to hear from you about publication ideas for JWA or for the JWA Reading List.  Please contact us at journalofwritingassessment [at] gmail [dot] com.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Review of Shari J. Stenberg's Repurposing Composition: Feminist Interventions of a Neoliberal Age

Stenberg, S. (2015). Repurposing composition: Feminist interventions of a neoliberal age. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.
 

By S.D.C. Parker, University of Alabama

In an academic climate where adjunct has become a dirty word, Shari J. Stenberg offers a timely look at how neoliberalism and a profit-driven academy can be harmful to pedagogical principles in composition. Stenberg’s Repurposing Composition: Feminist Interventions for a Neoliberal Age (2015) considers a growing, though certainly not new, concern for scholars—how do post-secondary educators address the conflicting goals of the academy as a place for job training and as a place to “help students become active and thinking civic members of society” (p. 8)? Assessment practices for student writing are driven by these conflicting goals, and a student’s ability to conform to neoliberal aims does not necessarily produce meaningful and thoughtful work. But even in this somewhat dark educational climate, Stenberg offers hope. She calls us, as researchers and educators, to alter the neoliberal timeline by changing our pedagogical practices, or rather, by repurposing composition through feminist practices and ideologies, including shifting from an accountability logic to a responsibility logic when assessing student writing.

Stenberg defines neoliberalism as the “set of economic principles and cultural politics that positions the free market as a guide for all human action” (p. 4). To repurpose the educational guidelines and standardizations inspired by these neoliberal aims, Stenberg asks us to challenge “the habitual or status quo” by departing from it and enacting “new purposes” (p. 17). Feminist scholarship has a rich history of highlighting and criticizing practices that appear “neutral”; when we see our assessments as impartial, we are more likely to undervalue the work of students whose voices are already marginalized. Stenberg believes we must continue to identify the “cloak of neutrality” Adrienne Rich (1973) observed, which leads to a renewed focus on marginalized voices in the academy (p. 10).

Repurposing requires teacher-scholars to consider the ways in which race, gender, ethnicity, and other identity markers are not accounted for in the academy, and as a result, not accounted for in writing assessment. Chapter two considers emotion and emotional management as a critical part of feminist repurposing. Rather than support the reason/emotion binary advanced by classical rhetoric, Stenberg offers a more complex view of emotion, a concept she claims is often feminized and therefore devalued in the academy. Stenberg, however, reframes emotion as a feminist site of “resistance, inquiry, and new knowledge and writing practices” (p. 42), rather than as an “impediment to rationalism and productivity” (p. 41). Importantly, Stenberg identifies how quickly students dismiss emotion in written texts from marginalized groups, which not only upsets the student’s ability to engage with that text, but worse, condemns the text as “not worth engaging because of the writer’s presumed emotional state” (p. 57). For example, Stenberg quotes a student describing a passage from Gloria Anzaldúa’s work as “too angry to be useful” (p. 58). Her solution to this kind of dismissal is a repurposing of emotion—in the case of Anzaldúa, asking students to engage with how and why this emotional response can be seen as a rational, rhetorical move.

The act of recognizing the use and necessity of emotion in both authored and student texts is in keeping with the larger trend toward emotional education. Stenberg argues the importance of valuing our students as not only intellectual, but emotional individuals, and supports the emotional education movement that has grown in education for the past thirty years, which includes a feminist repurposing of writing practices. Stenberg traces how rhetorical practices have been remade according to traditionally masculine concepts such as cutting “excess,” and notes, “women’s rhetoric will often sound different than the self-assured, strident voices that have long defined the tradition” (p. 23). As a teacher, I encourage the kind of writing that comes from this masculinized tradition, just as I was trained and encouraged to do. Yet Stenberg’s arguments force me to evaluate how my own practices, some of which I had considered to be “neutral,” may actually represent gendered, ethnic, racial, and other standards that are decidedly not neutral. What we see as assessment according to “neutral” guidelines (essentially, the rules and restrictions that accompany academic discourse or Standard American English) may actual reinforce writing standards that potentially discriminate against marginalized identities.

In the third chapter, “Repurposed Listening,” Stenberg leans heavily on Krista Ratcliffe’s (1999) work, and asserts that corporate leaders have appropriated the act of listening for their own means—that listening becomes an act to gather client intel and gauge consumer desire and satisfaction. Listening is marketed as a skill needed for individual success. But through a feminist repurposing of listening, Stenberg identifies the act as a generative practice, one that encourages the reciprocity of speaking/listening to create new knowledge (p. 77). For this practice to be successful, however, it becomes necessary to understand how the speaker and listener are rhetorically situated through power dynamics, cultural differences/similarities and assumptions, among others (p. 77). Teacher-scholars must encourage students to create “arguments that listen,” a concept that acknowledges and accounts for a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints within the argument. This listening includes finding a located agency, wherein teachers and students take responsibility for their own positions and subjectivities as a way to understand how marginalized positions can serve as resources for “teaching, learning, and knowing” (p. 100).

Readers of this book will not, however, find a set of instructions on how to assess student writing. Rather, Stenberg’s solution calls us to shift from an accountability logic, which compares student writing to an external, predetermined norm, to a responsibility logic, which relies on transparency between educators, students, and community members to generate, rather than simply follow, a standard approach used for writing assessment. Repurposed responsibility is itself “grounded not in compliance” but rather in relation to dialogue and responding well to the individual (p. 137). By inviting multiple audiences into discussions about assessment, teacher-scholars can include rather than excluded public audiences and marginalized voices within a particular community (p. 135). Just as students should invite a multiplicity of voices into their arguments, so should teacher-scholars invite a multiplicity of voices into their assessment practices.

Overall, I find Stenberg’s Repurposing Composition a critical read for current teachers of writing, and an important text for providing real and practical examples of how feminist practices can be implemented in the writing classroom. As Stenberg herself admits, this repurposing is not easy; it requires reflection, listening, dialogue, and potentially failure (another concept Stenberg argues needs repurposing). Accountability methods can feel safe, because we have a norm from which to assess. Responsibility methods, however, view students as individual subjects and provide a much improved approach for assessing writing in the reality of a diversified academy.


References 


Ratcliffe, K. (1999). Rhetorical Listening: A Trope for Interpretive Invention and a “Code of Cross-Cultural Conduct.” College Composition and Communication, 51(2), 195-224.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

JWA at CWPA 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina

Journal of Writing Assessment editorial team members will be attending the annual meeting of the Council of Writing Program Administrators in Raleigh, North Carolina, July 14-17, 2016.    Diane Kelly-Riley, Carl Whithaus, Jessica Nastal-Dema, and Ti Macklin will be at CWPA--please contact one of them if you'd like to discuss a potential project for JWA!

Also, authors from the 2015 JWA Special Issue on the Impact of the Common Core State Standards will be presenting on Friday, July 15, 2016 from 1:55-3:10 PM in Hannover I at the CWPA Conference.  Please join us for "Impacts and Implications of the Common Core State Standards Assessments for WPAs, Writing Faculty, and Postsecondary Writing Instruction."  The panel is comprised of Diane Kelly-Riley, University of Idaho; Brad Jacobson, University of Arizona; Sherry Rankins-Robertson, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; Duane Roen, Arizona State University; Session Chair: Tialitha Macklin, formerly of Washington State University and now California State University Sacramento; Respondent: Carl Whithaus, University of California-Davis.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Special Issue on the Theory of Ethics for Writing Assessment

The Journal of Writing Assessment is pleased to announce the publication of the 2016 Special Issue on the Theory of Ethics for Writing Assessment authored by David Slomp, Norbert Elliot, Mya Poe, John Cogan, Jr., Bob Broad, and Ellen Cushman.

We're pleased to share this excellent and important research with you.   Access this special issue at http://journalofwritingassessment.org.


JWA at the Independent Rhetoric and Composition Journals Table TODAY

Are you at 4C16?  Stop by and meet Bruce Bowles, Jr., co-editor of the JWA Reading List and of Florida State University.  He'll be at the Independent Rhetoric and Composition Journals Table today in the Exhibition Hall on the Fourth Floor of the Hilton of the Americas.

He'd love to talk with you about potential reviews for the JWA Reading List or give you more information about publication opportunities through the Journal of Writing Assessment.

Friday, April 1, 2016

JWA at 4Cs in Houston, Texas!

Journal of Writing Assessment editorial team members will attend the upcoming Conference on College Composition and Communication in Houston, Texas this April 5-10, 2016.

We'd love to talk with you about potential projects to the journal or to the JWA Reading List!

Diane Kelly-Riley will be at the RNF Editors' Roundtable on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, and Bruce Bowles will be at the Rhetoric and Composition Journal Editors' Table on Friday, April 8, 2016 in the Exhibition Hall.  Carl Whithaus will also be in attendance at the conference.

Stop by and see us, send us an email, or tweet us--we'd love to talk with you about ways to contribute to JWA!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Part IV: Review of Norbert Elliot's and Les Perelman's (Eds.) _Writing Assessment in the 21st Century: Essays in Honor of Edward M. White_

Jessica Nastal-Dema, Prairie State College

Elliot, N., & Perelman, L. (Eds.) (2012).  Writing assessment in the 21st century:  Essays in honor of Edward M. White.  New York, NY:  Hampton Press. 


Note: This is the final installment in a series of reviews: see Section I; Section II; and Section III.



I imagine readers of Writing Assessment in the 21st Century: Essays in Honor of Edward M. White will each take away something different from their interactions with the text. It could be used as a primer on writing assessment for graduate students, experienced instructors, and WPAs who seek to learn more about the field. It can serve as an introduction to educational measurement for those of us more comfortable on the Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies side of things. It’s a collection of important research by some of the field’s most prominent scholars. It is a significant resource, one I have turned to several times since its publication.

As I began writing this final, delayed installment of my review, I went back to the words that first struck me when I opened Writing Assessment in the 21st Century upon its publication in 2012: “Where would we be without each other? The effort to design, develop, and complete this collection reveals the strength of community” (xi).

This book ushered me into writing assessment in a number of ways. As a PhD student, I tried to get my hands on anything I could by the authors whose writing spoke to me. I mined the bibliographies in many of the twenty-seven chapters to prepare for my qualifying exams and later, my dissertation. I felt encouraged to make connections between historical approaches to admissions and placement practices and what I was observing in twenty-first century urban settings with diverse student bodies. I was energized to continue operating under the assumption that assessment can interact with curricula and classroom practice in generative ways.

I realized that my work, regardless of how different it was from my peers’, fit into a body of scholarship. I realized that I fit into a community of scholars, a community that welcomed me.

Norbert Elliot and Les Perelman helped me translate that realization from the page to my life. Norbert willingly struck up a correspondence with me in 2012, which led to his serving as a reader on my dissertation committee, and now, to his becoming a trusted mentor and friend. Les welcomed me as a guest on the CCCC Assessment Committee, and has been generous in acknowledging my work. While I still know Edward M. White mainly through his corpus, many of us meet him at sessions at the CWPA and CCCC, observe him mentoring graduate students, and read his frequent contributions to the WPA-Listserv. Together, these leaders guide emerging scholars. They show us the incredible range of possible inquiries into writing assessment. They demonstrate the power of collaboration. They, and this collection, embody the importance—the strength—of community.  


Section IV, “Toward a valid future: The uses and misuses of writing assessment” is the last in Norbert Elliot and Les Perelman’s edited collection, Writing Assessment in the 21st Century, and each chapter confronts the tension between outdated methods of writing assessment and the view held by instructors and WPAs of “writing as a complex cognitive act” (p. 410).

Writing Assessment in the 21st Century brings “together the worlds of writing teachers and of writing assessment” (p. 499) as it makes clear that the educational measurement and academic communities are not always at odds, and have always had at least some shared concerns. And writers in this section continue to complicate those shared concerns in productive ways. This is the only section where each chapter is written by a member of the Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies community; importantly, as Elliot and Perelman make clear in their introduction (and does Elliot’s On a Scale: A Social History of Writing Assessment in America, 2007), the issues these writers confront have persisted throughout the entire history of writing assessment in the teaching and testing of writing. In 1937, the creator of the SAT, Carl Campbell Brigham, believed testing specialists and teachers could work together, but “his vision of a new testing organization was one that favored the trained teacher over the educational measurement specialist” – an idea many teachers and assessment practitioners favor today (p. 408). And Paul Diederich proposed using multiple samples of student writing “for valid and reliable writing assessment” in 1974 (p. 408), which the academic side of assessment supports each time we require students to submit a portfolio of their work.

Les Perelman leads the pack here, in his powerfully written and convincing, “Mass-Market Writing Assessments as Bullshit” (Chapter 24). Perelman’s chapter is incendiary. His argument – that “[e]ducation should be the enemy of bullshit” seems neutral enough (p. 427). If, however, we view the educational landscape while considering the opening line of Harry G. Frankfurter’s On Bullshit, as Perelman invites us to do, we can see how controversial his position becomes: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit” (Frankfurter qtd. in Perelman, p. 426). Writing assessment has the potential to improve our teaching, writing programs, and the student learning that takes place within them. Perelman claims, however, as White did in his infamous “My Five-Paragraph Theme Theme,” it is overrun by bullshit, in the reports mass-market testing organizations distribute to drum up support for their cheap and fast—and effective!—methods, in the writing it encourages from students who are “not penalize[d]…for presenting incorrect information,” and in the scoring sessions more concerned with standardization than carefully reading student writing (p. 427). Ultimately, mass-market testing organizations are driven by “an obese bottom line on the balance sheet,” not “having students display and use knowledge, modes of analysis, or both” (p. 435; p. 429). After reading this chapter, I imagine readers will also want to explore the NCTE Position Statement on Machine Scoring and the “Professionals Against Machine Scoring Of Student Essays In High-Stakes Assessment”, in addition to Farley (2009) and Lemann (1999).  

The remaining chapters in this section provide some suggestions on how WPAs might challenge the “bullshit effect.” As rhetoricians, we know that language can represent and reinforce social power structures, which Cindy Moore (Chapter 26), Peggy O’Neill (Chapter 25), and Richard Haswell (Chapter 23) take up. each chapter in this section highlights the absolute necessity of collaborating with our colleagues and of communicating with people outside our communities.

Haswell discusses how WPAs are better positioned to design, report on, and control assessments that focus on students’ needs by embracing, not fearing or rejecting, numbers. While there are many reasons teacher-scholars have traditionally resisted numbers about writing, the most prominent is that quantitative data provides a limited perspective of students’ writing abilities. For many, numbers can only provide an abstraction of the complexities of writing. Haswell argues, however, that the more WPAs use numbers and data within their programs, the more able they will be to “stave off outside assessment” (p. 414). Numbers can be powerfully convincing; as such, Haswell claims we should “fight numbers with numbers” and be prepared with quantitative data to be more persuasive, with data and numbers that support our concerns and values about writing (p. 414). I agree with Haswell, and with White that the more we can do assessment, the more we can do with assessment. Cindy Moore insightfully explains the precarious position of a WPA and of writing faculty, and how using ambiguous, field-centric terms may, in fact, reduce our efficacy. While scholars like Patricia Lynne (2004) argue against using the term “validity” because of its association with the positivist tradition, Moore claims it is precisely because of this tradition that it holds such weight in our cultural, interdisciplinary, and institutional conversations. If WPAs were to use a different term, like Lynne’s “meaningfulness,” we would lose credibility with the very people with whom we need to establish it. O’Neill continues the work of Reframing Writing Assessment (2010) and examines WAC/WID programs at two universities to demonstrate how a frame of writing assessment influences “how others understand writing and writing assessment as well as the role of composition and rhetoric in the academy” (p. 450). As such, it is crucial for WPAs and those of us in Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies to use writing assessment not to further the bullshit Perelman sees, but instead, to shape the conversations about what it means to teach writing.  

Finally, Kathleen Blake Yancey continues the work of her foundational 1999 article, “Historicizing Writing Assessment,” as she discusses the current rhetorical situation of writing assessment (Chapter 27). While the third wave of writing assessment allowed for changes at the local level due to individual programs developing their own outcomes and assessments, Yancey sees the fourth wave characterized by collaborative practices that transcend a specific context. Rather than responding only to local issues, the collaborative models allow participants to align some practices and invent others, which can be critical in this era of increased participation in assessment by the federal government and institutional bodies.

I find Yancey’s position to be intriguing. Locally-controlled assessments are not a panacea; however, they certainly have much more face validity than mass-market exams, and they may offer us more opportunities to carefully examine how our practices affect our diverse bodies of students. I also see the benefit of frameworks like the WPA Outcomes Statement and the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (2014) in guiding and shaping the field, in serving as a foundation and touch-point for the wide range of writing class instructors. In my own work, for instance, the WPA Outcomes Statement has been of great use to discuss with different departments on campus what writing is and does and can be. Perelman and Elliot explain, “[t]his new model, independent of any specific local need, is located within multiple, diverse communities” (p. 411). I believe it is from understanding these multiple, diverse communities that we can improve our writing assessments and classroom practices.

References

Adler-Kassner, L., and O’Neill, P. (2010). Reframing writing assessment to improve
teaching and learning. Logan, UT: Utah State U P.

AERA, APA, & NCME. (2014). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association. 


Council of Writing Program Administrators (2014). WPA outcomes statement for First-Year Composition (Revisions adopted 17 July 2014). WPA: Writing Program Administration, 38, 142–146.


Elliot, N. (2007). On a scale: A social history of writing assessment in America. New York: Peter Lang.

Farley, T. (2009). Making the grade: My misadventures in the standardized testing industry. Sausalito, CA: PoliPoint Press.

Frankfurt, H. G. (2004). On bullshit. Princeton, NJ and Oxford, UK: Princeton UP. 


Lemann, N. (1999). The big test: The secret history of the American meritocracy. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 


Lynne, P. (2004). Coming to terms: A theory of writing assessment. Logan, UT: Utah
State U P.

O’Neill, P., Moore, C., and Huot, B. (2009). Guide to College Writing Assessment.
Logan, UT: Utah State U P.

White, E. M. (2008). My five-paragraph-theme theme. College Composition and Communications, 59(3), 524-5. 

Yancey, K. B. (1999). Looking back as we look forward: Historicizing writing assessment. College Composition and Communication, 50(3): 483-503. 








Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Working Against Racism: a Review of Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies


Inoue, A.  (2015). Antiracist writing assessment ecologies:Teaching and assessing writing for a socially just future. Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse/Parlor Press. 

By Katrina Love Miller, University of Nevada, Reno

Before I wrote this review, I did a key term search in the JWA archive for race and racism.  I got one hit: Diane Kelly-Riley (2011).  I did this search because one of Asao Inoue’s premises is that we have not yet adequately addressed race and racism in our theories of writing assessment.  According to this admittedly cursory check, Inoue is right. 

As practitioners and scholars of writing assessment, we have an ethical obligation to consider how writing assessments can unfairly impact our increasingly diverse student populations based on their race, ethnicity, gender, multilinguality, sexuality, and other social markers.  However, there has been renewed scholarly interest in writing assessment as a vehicle for social justice (Inoue and Poe 2012; Poe, Elliot, Cogan Jr., Nurudeen Jr.  2014).  In other words, we are not only looking for potential problems to be solved, but also reflecting on our practices as potential sites for inequality.  In Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies, Inoue challenges readers to not only take the stance that our classroom assessments of student writing should do no harm to minority students, but to go a step further by using writing assessment as a vehicle to promote social justice. 

Inoue constructs an antiracist ecological theory he contends is capable of informing the design and implementation of more fair and just classroom writing assessments.  Chapters one and two are theory-building chapters wherein Inoue lays the foundation of his concept of antiracist classroom writing assessment ecologies.  In chapter one, he offers robust definitions of key terms like race, racial formation, and racism but emphasizes his term racial habitus as the most useful way to think about how racism is manifested in writing classrooms, consciously or unconsciously.  For example, he argues that race is a factor in most if not all classroom writing assessments because such judgments of student writing are typically measured in terms of students’ ability to approximate the dominant discourse, which he says is always already closely associated with white racial formations in the U.S.  (p.  31).  He continues that “as judges of English in college writing classrooms, we cannot avoid this racializing of language when we judge writing, nor can we avoid the influence of race in how we read and value the words and ideas of others” (p.  33).  Inoue ends chapter one with a clear articulation of racial habitus, which builds upon Pierre Bourdieu’s term habitus to consider race as socially constructed in three dimensions: discursively/linguistically, material and bodily, performatively.  Racial habitus, Inoue explains, is a conglomerate of “structuring structures" or principles that construct racial designations and identities (p.  43).  Such structures maybe be seen in each of these three dimensions because “some [are] marked on the body, some in language practices, some in the ways we interact or work, write, and read, some in the way we behave or dress, some in the processes and differential opportunities we have to live where we do (or get to live where we can), or where we hang out, work, go to school, etc.” (p.  43).

Chapter two focuses on defining anti-racist ecologies as productive, as a system, and as a Marxian historic bloc.  Pulling together diverse theoretical traditions, this chapter constructs antiracist writing assessment ecologies as paces that provide sustainable and fair assessments by engaging in inquiry about the nature of judgment against the backdrop of the normative “white racial habitus” found in most writing classrooms (p.  10).  The ecological perspective, which seems to build upon Wardle and Roozen’s (2012) ecological model of writing assessment (although Inoue does not directly discuss their model) builds a definition of this space by blending together Frierian critical pedagogy, Buddhist theories of interconnectedness, and Marxian political theory.  Such a theoretical blend, he contends, provides “a structural and political understanding of ecology that doesn’t abandon the inherent interconnectedness of all people and things, and maintains the importance of an antiracist agenda for writing assessments” (p.  77).   In turn, this understanding can enable practitioners of classroom writing assessment to reconceive of classroom writing assessment as “cultivating and nurturing complex systems that are centrally about sustaining fairness and diverse complexity” (p.  12).

The next three chapters build from the framework in chapters one and two to explain and analyze classroom writing assessment ecologies.  Chapter three breaks down such ecologies into seven related elements—power, parts, purposes, people, processes, products, and places—and chapter four describes the assessment ecology in Inoue’s upper-division writing course at Fresno State and analyzes students’ writing (the author has since moved to the University of Washington, Tacoma).  In the final chapter, Inoue condenses the theoretical concepts from earlier chapters into an accessible and generative heuristic for antiracist writing assessment ecologies in the form of a list of questions that could help writing teachers construct their own antiracist classroom writing assessment ecologies. 

Inoue adeptly weaves in micro-narratives about his students as well as his own experiences as a person of color.  The rhythm of these reflections helps the reader periodically surface from the theoretical discussion to pause and consider the racial consequences of assessment.  For instance, Inoue reflects: “I will be the first to admit that I lost my ghetto English a long time ago (but not the swearing) for the wrong reasons, for racist reasons.  I cannot help that.  I was young and didn’t understand racism or language.  I just felt and experienced racism, and some of it was due to how I talked and wrote in school” (23).

Though classroom assessments remain Inoue’s main focus, he does take occasional detours to discuss the racial consequences of larger-scale assessments readers are likely familiar with, including IQ tests, the SAT, and CSU’s English Placement Test.  His discussion of the EPT’s consequences, which he says paint “a stunning racial picture,” is particularly insightful.  The test, which is purported a language competency test and is scored in blind readings by CSU faculty readers, consistently produces racially uneven results.  Inoue uses this as evidence that “language is connected to the racialized body” (p.  35).

JWA readers may recall Richard Haswell’s 2013 response to Inoue and Poe’s collection Race and Writing Assessment.  Haswell (2013) argues “any writing assessment shaped by anti-racism will still be racism or, if that term affronts, will be stuck in racial contradictions” (para.  6).   Inoue’s new book might face a similar criticism, but he bluntly addresses such criticisms.  Take, for example, his agreement with Haswell (2013) that we are all implicated in racism, even as we take-up an antiracist agenda.  Indeed, as Inoue explains, “racism is still here with us in our classrooms” (p.  9) and “You don’t have to actively try to be racist for your writing assessments to be racist” (p.  9).  Inoue argues that such contradictions become less problematic if we consider the point of such work is to eradicate racism, not race itself.  However, “We cannot eradicate racism in our writing classrooms until we actually address it first in our writing assessments, and our theories about what makes up our writing assessments” (p.  9).  Inoue similarly acknowledges in the introduction that his argument may rub some the wrong way because teachers as practitioners of classroom writing assessment might be uncomfortable with his assertion that our judgments are racially informed.  But, Inoue reiterates, “Any denial of racism in our writing assessments is a white illusion” (p.  24). 

Inoue’s book is important for its productive and respectful critiques of other writing assessment scholars for their limited treatment or avoidance of racism, including Brian Huot, Patricia Lynne, Peggy O’Neill, Bob Broad, Bill Condon, Kathleen Yancey, and Ed White.  He devotes most of this critique to problematizing Huot’s emphasis on individualism as problematic in its avoidance of racism in writing assessment.  “By referencing individualism, by referring to all students as individuals” (p.  21), Inoue argues, Huot’s theory and model fail to capture “broader patterns by any number of social dimensions” (p.  21).  Inoue sees his antiracist agenda as something that can help bring issues of racism to the forefront of future theoretical discussions of writing assessment. 

Inoue also confronts the fact that antiracist theory and practice often encounter resistance in the form of rationalizations of rival causes for white students’ better performance rates (e.g., some students simply do not write well and those students are sometimes students of color or multilingual).  While he agrees that students should not be judged on a different scale because they happen to be from minority groups, he emphasizes that it is the judgment that should be under examination because those judgments might be biased in their orientation to a discourse that privileges Standardized Edited American English and other discourses of whiteness or might exist in broader ecologies of writing assessment that might be racist themselves (6-7).

For conscientious writing teachers and WPAs who as leaders want to cultivate attention to the racial politics of writing assessment and perhaps further such an antiracist ecology that Inoue proposes, this book will provide a theoretically informed and accessible vocabulary for thinking about how to enhance assessment in their own writing classrooms, a useful heuristic for designing antiracist classroom writing assessments, and a sampling of Inoue’s classroom materials (a grading contract for an upper-division writing course, reflection letter prompt, weekly writing assessment tasks). 

Inoue’s argument is familiar in its implication that writing assessment will always cast a shadow on pedagogy because as a writing teacher, what you assess “trumps what you say or what you attempt to do with your students” (9).  However, Inoue invites us to reexamine our pedagogy and assessment practices to ask if writing assessments are not only productively connected to programmatic objectives like course outcomes, but also informed by a sense of ethics and fairness.  In this way, Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies complements recent work on writing assessment as social justice, including the joint NCTE-JWA webinar “NoTest is Neutral: Writing Assessments, Equity, Ethics, and Social Justice” and a forthcoming special issue of JWA on ethics and writing assessment.  Inoue admirably deploys concepts that are cutting-edge in writing assessment theory, which makes his book an exciting and timely addition to the canon of critical studies of writing assessment.

References

Hawell, R.  (2013).  Writing assessment and race studies sub specie aeternitatis: A response to race and writing assessment.  Journal of Writing Assessment Reading List Retrieved from http://jwareadinglist.blogspot.com/2013/01/writing-assessment-and-race-studies-sub_4.html

Inoue, A.  B., & Poe, M.  (Eds.).  (2012).  Race and writing assessment.  New York, NY: Peter Lang.  

Kelly-Riley, D.  (2011).  Validity inquiry of race and shared evaluation practices in a large-scale, university-wide writing portfolio assessment.  Journal of Writing Assessment4(1).  Retrieved from http://journalofwritingassessment.org/article.php?article=53

Poe, M., Elliot, N., Cogan, J.  A., & Nurudeen, T.  G.  (2014).  The Legal and the local: Using disparate impact analysis to understand the consequences of writing assessment.  College Composition and Communication, 65(4), 588-611.