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Writing Assessment: A Position Statement

Writing assessment can be used for a variety of purposes, both inside the classroom and outside: supporting student learning, assigning a grade, placing students in appropriate courses, allowing them to exit a course or sequence of courses, certifying proficiency, and evaluating programs. Given the high-stakes nature of many of these assessment purposes, it is crucial that assessment practices be guided by sound principles that are fair and just and specific to the people for whom and the context and purposes for which they are designed. This position statement aims to provide that guidance for writing teachers and administrators across institutional types and missions.

We encourage faculty, administrators, students, community members, and other stakeholders to reflect on the ways the principles, considerations, and practices articulated in this document are present in their current assessment methods and to consider revising and rethinking their practices to ensure that inclusion and language diversity, teaching and learning, and ethical labor practices inform every level of writing assessment.

Foundational Principles of Writing Assessment

  1. Writing assessments are important means for guiding teaching and learning. Writing assessments—and assignments to which they correlate—should be designed and implemented in pursuit of clearly articulated learning goals.
  2. The methods and criteria used to assess writing shape student perceptions of writing and of themselves as writers.
  3. Assessment practices should be solidly grounded in the latest research on learning, literacies, language, writing, equitable pedagogy, and ethical assessment.
  4. Writing is by definition social. In turn, assessing writing is social. Teaching writing and learning to write entail exploring a range of purposes, audiences, social and cultural contexts and positions, and mediums.
  5. Writers approach their writing with different attitudes, experiences, and language practices. Writers deserve the opportunity to think through and respond to numerous rhetorical situations that allow them to incorporate their knowledges, to explore the perspectives of others, and to set goals for their writing and their ongoing development as writers.
  6. Writing and writing assessment are labor-intensive practices. Labor conditions and outcomes must be designed and implemented in pursuit of both the short-term and long-term health and welfare of all participants.

Based on the six foundational principles detailed in the previous section, this section enumerates key considerations that follow from these principles for the design, interpretation, and implementation of writing assessments, whether formative or summative or at the classroom or programmatic level.

Considerations for Inclusion and Language Diversity
  • Best assessment practice is contextual. It is designed and implemented to address the learning needs of a full range of students in the local context, and involves methods and criteria that are locally developed, deriving from the particular context and purposes for the writing being assessed. (1, 2)
  • Best assessment practice requires that learning goals, assessment methods, and criteria for success be equitable, accessible, and appropriate for each student in the local context . To meet this requirement, assessments are informed by research focused on the ways assignments and varied forms of assessment affect diverse student groups. (3)
  • Best assessment practice recognizes that mastery is not necessarily an indicator of excellence . It provides opportunities for students to demonstrate their strengths in writing, displaying the strategies or skills taught in the relevant environment. Successful summative and formative assessment empowers students to make informed decisions about how to meet their goals as writers. (4, 5)
  • Best assessment practice respects language as complicated and diverse and acknowledges that as purposes vary, criteria will as well. Best assessment practices provide multiple paths to success, accounting for a range of diverse language users, and do not arbitrarily or systematically punish linguistic differences. (3, 4, 5)
Considerations for Learning and Teaching
  • Best assessment practice engages students in contextualized, meaningful writing. Strong assessments strive to set up writing tasks and situations that identify purposes that are appropriate to, and that appeal to, the particular students being assessed. (4, 5)
  • Best assessment practice clearly communicates what is valued and expected of writing practices. It focuses on measuring specific outcomes defined within the program or course. Values, purposes, and learning goals should drive assessment, not the reverse. (1, 6)
  • Best assessment practice relies on new developments to shape assessment methods that prioritize student learning. Best assessment practice evolves. Revisiting and revising assessment practices should be considered periodically, as research in the field develops and evolves, and/or as the assessment needs or circumstances change. (3)
  • Best assessment practice engages students in the assessment process, contextualizing the method and purpose of the assessment for students and all other stakeholders. Where possible, these practices invite students to help develop assessment strategies, both formative and summative. Best assessment practice understands that students need multiple opportunities to provide feedback to and receive feedback from other learners. (2, 4, 5)
  • Best assessment practice helps students learn to examine and evaluate their own writing and how it functions and moves outside of specifically defined writing courses. These practices help students set individualized goals and encourage critical reflection by student writers on their own writing processes and performances. (4, 5)

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