Looking ahead in 2018

Dear readers,

In 2017, the JWA Reading List published three reviews under the leadership of David Bedsole and Bruce Bowles, Jr. Justin Vaught’s take on The problem with education technology (Fink & Brown, 2016) drew our attention to conversations around mechanized assessment and socioeconomic disparity; Julie Cook’s review of A rhetoric of reflection (Yancey, 2016) highlighted questions central to the work of teacher-scholar-practitioners: “What do we value? Why do we value it? How do we relate that knowledge? How do we observe its use? How do we assess it?”; and Heather Falconer’s recent review of Assessing and improving student writing in college (Walvoord, 2014) focused on writing inclusion and programmatic approaches to assessment.

In 2018, we invite authors at all levels of experience to submit brief reviews of current writing assessment scholarship in addition to reviews focused on practical applications of assessment theory—how do foundational texts in the field work in practice? We also encourage potential authors to contact us to discuss ideas for reviews.  Submission guidelines are here.   

We are delighted to serve as the new JWA Readling List editors, and to welcome Gita DasBender and Skyler Meeks as they begin their two-year term as Editorial Assistants.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Jessica Nastal-Dema and Ti Macklin

A Review of Barbara E. Walvoord’s Assessing and improving student writing in college

By Heather M. Falconer, Northeastern University

Walvoord, B.E. (2014). Assessing and improving student writing in college: A guide for institutions, general education, departments, and classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Barbara E. Walvoord’s (2014) Assessing and improving student writing in college: A guide for institutions, general education, departments, and classrooms provides a contemporary and pragmatic approach to writing program administration in higher education. Without attempting to standardize Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines (WAC/WID), Walvoord works to simplify the institutionalization of WAC/WID by offering a resource to administrators, departments, and faculty alike.

Readers should be aware that this text is not intended for newcomers to the field – it is a resource for those who are already familiar with and wish to formalize WAC/WID initiatives. It is also not meant to be read cover-to cover, as Walvoord anticipates readers will focus only on chapters relevant to them. As such, the content has been distilled into subsections of 150 words or less, with extensive bibliographic resources for further exploration. This approach makes for both quick reading and an effective reminder of best practices in WAC/WID implementation.

Chapter One provides an important orientation to all readers as it establishes basic principles and clarifies terminology. Walvoord reminds readers what “we mean by ‘writing’,” noting that it goes far beyond considerations of grammar and punctuation, is situated rhetorically, and “is enmeshed with critical thinking, information literacy, problem solving, qualitative reasoning, and other skills” (p. 1). The chapter reminds readers of the various ways good writing can be defined and assessed, and lays the groundwork to ensure instructors, program directors, and administrators share a language of writing and assessment.

Rather than transition to the classroom, where WAC/WID efforts are most actualized, Walvoord focuses Chapter Two on the concerns relevant to those working at the institutional level, as well as those concerned with general education as a whole. The chapter devotes space to the exigence for WAC/WID program implementation and assessment, and includes a discussion of the data administrators collect in the early stages of program development (with particular attention to accreditation needs).

Chapter Three identifies concerns relevant at the department and program levels. Notably, Walvoord uses examples from departments other than English, where writing programs tend to be housed. In this way, she makes clear how the integration and assessment of writing is relevant and important across disciplines. This chapter emphasizes individual departments are as much stake-holders in the program as anyone else and demonstrates how articulating the specifics of disciplinary conventions will “help your students become proficient at writing in your discipline” (p. 51).

Finally, Chapter Four addresses the needs and interests of individual instructors, providing guidance “for faculty who want to assign more student writing or to work more effectively with student writing, in classes, in any discipline,” or at any degree level (p. 59). Like the previous chapters, Walvoord guides instructors to start first with observation: “observe your own classroom in reasonably systemic ways…to gather useful information that can help your teaching be more effective and more time-efficient” (p. 61). She directs instructors to consider the student writing itself, as well as to talk with students about their experiences with the course and assignments. This analysis calls for scrutiny of how both students and instructors engage with writing. Drawing on best practices and scholarly research, Walvoord directs instructors to ways they can improve their existing writing assignments, as well as incorporate writing into their course effectively and purposefully without increasing workload.

Overall, the text foregrounds programmatic structure over the actual assessment of writing, and relies heavily on its extensive bibliographies to direct readers to actual writing assessment practices and rubrics. Though Chapter Four, which is targeted toward classroom instructors, does address writing inclusion and approaches to assessment more tangibly, its placement at the end of the text has the consequence of making it an afterthought rather than a focus. Similarly, the pick-and-choose nature of the chapters can leave readers feeling disjointed and the guidance offered brief. Despite these challenges, Walvoord’s text remains a valuable resource for the implementation of WAC/WID programs once stakeholder buy-in has been achieved.

Would you like to write a review for the JWA Reading List?

We’re looking for scholars who would like to write shorter reviews of important pieces about writing assessment.  Here are the submission guidelines for the JWA Reading List:

The Journal of Writing Assessment welcomes submissions for the Reading List. Submissions should be 500-750 words in length. The purpose of the Reading List is to highlight the importance of publications for practitioners in writing assessment. Reviews should include an overview of the main points of the publication, an overview of the methodologies, identification of controversies and then a brief discussion of the relevance of this publication for the field of writing assessment.

Authors should follow the style guidelines of the most recent edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, especially for reference lists and text citation of sources.

Currently, submissions to JWA’s Reading List are reviewed by the editors.

JWA Reading List submissions can be sent via our webpage at http://journalofwritingassessment.org/submit.php or as an email attachment to journalofwritingassessment@gmail.com.

Share this information with others!

Part III: A Review of Kathleen Blake Yancey’s A Rhetoric of Reflection

Part III: Implicit Implications for Assessment

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, ed. (2016). A Rhetoric of Reflection. Logan: Utah State UP.

By Julie Cook, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Note: This is the third installment of a three-part review (see Part 1: A Comprehensive Review; Part 2: Explicit Implications for Assessment)

To conclude my review of A Rhetoric of Reflection (ROR), this last installment focuses on chapters that, while important to the work of assessment, were less explicit in their approach. The question underscoring the chapters reviewed here, however, is an important one that directly informs the work of assessment: Do we know what we value?

In Chapter 6, Bruce Horner complicates Freire’s (1970) “banking” approach to writing agency and demonstrates with great complexity that action-reflection (choice-driven) is limited not only in scope but also in reach if “norms” for writing are unacknowledged as having differences according to choice. Situating English as a lingua franca with a concentration on translation, iteration, and reiteration, Horner distinguishes all language practices as always containing differences and situates choice as an always existing rhetorical activity. His depiction of choice for what is commonly seen as normal practice is equally applicable to the process and work of assessment.

Acknowledging the tensions that exist between the process of reflective learning and the product of an ePortfolio, Christina Russell McDonald (Chapter XX) relates Virginia Military Institute’s implementation of a process-centered, social reflective pedagogy. McDonald’s chapter will be of interest to those who value social reflection and will resonate with those who are interested in knowing “why the educational, theoretical, and pedagogical underpinnings of ePortfolios” often lack “transparency, especially to the primary audiences for which they [are] intended” (p. 203).

Naomi Silver also considers the affordances of digital spaces in Chapter 9. Of interest for classroom pedagogy, Silver’s work introduces digital genres (revision histories, screencasts, blogs) that promote scaffolding and reinforce reflection as a dialogic process. Similar to Taczak and Roberson (Chapter 3), recursive reflection is the curriculum; however, Silver promotes the “seamless integration,” of reflection through genres that do not explicitly call for one to reflect (i.e. blog posts), thus preventing “reflection burnout” (pp. 173-174). While I found Silver’s chapter to be worth consideration for classroom practice, it is worth noting that the students discussed in her work are enrolled in the course as part of a writing minor and that there will likely be motivational differences for this student demographic and that of first-year writing students taking a required course to meet general educational requirements. In contrast, Kara Taczak and Liane Robertson (Chapter 3) present an interlocking pedagogy that promotes transfer through recursive reflection, where reflection is situated as the framework for transfer. Unlike Silver (Chapter 9), Taczak and Robertson’s model stresses the need for explicitness in reflection as the curriculum for transfer.

In Chapter 2, Anne Beaufort speaks to issues of agreement within writing studies. In common Beaufort fashion, she provides a relatable application of her work on transfer and its integration into the classroom context, making the chapter a rich resource for experienced and novice teachers. Beaufort also relates the importance of remembering our history as a field in developing an understanding of what we know about reflection, learning, and transfer—it is a history informed, revised, and repurposed by several disciplines. While it is important to continue viewing the study of reflection as an interdisciplinary activity, it is also necessary for writing studies to develop a shared understanding of what core concepts are important for the work of reflection and transfer.

That shared understanding may come from inter-disciplinary conversations, like the ones Pamela Flash discusses in Chapter 11. As part of a writing-enrichment program, Flash asked multiple disciplines to articulate what it is that those in the community believe to be “good” writing. The dialogue and meetings that followed this question created a “productively disruptive” discussion fostered by a social and recursive reflection—“generating, implementing, and assessing multiple iterations of comprehensive documents”—used as a tool to “divert resistance” and move toward an understanding of tacit, paradigmatic assumptions (Brookfield, 1995, as cited in Flash, p. 247, p. 232). Hers is a fascinating—and relevant—study of institutional activity systems, drawing heavily upon activity theory. Those interested in WAC and LAC will find Flash’s work to be informative, and it is likely her work will be of most benefit to departments and programs involved in local assessments, as they ask, “What do we value? Why do we value it? How do we relate that knowledge? How do we observe its use? How do we assess it?” It is for this reason that I can think of no better work to end this review on. While there are chapters in ROR that are more consequential to practice, to reflective studies, and to assessment, Flash’s work, though largely implicit, holds each answerable to the other in a pragmatic manner. 


Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.
Source: jwa

Part II: A Review of Kathleen Blake Yancey’s A Rhetoric of Reflection

Explicit Implications for Assessment 

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, ed. (2016). A Rhetoric of Reflection. Logan: Utah State UP. 

By Julie Cook, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Note: This is the second installment of a three-part review (see Part 1: A Comprehensive Review; Part 3: Implicit Implications for Assessment

A Rhetoric of Reflection (ROR) has much to contribute to the discussion of writing assessment. While the authors’ approaches are diverse, two questions remain primary through their work with reflection: 1) Do we assess what we think we are assessing? and 2) Do we value what we say we value? 

Like others in ROR (Beaufort, Sommers, Robertson & Taczak), Michael Neal (Chapter 4) builds from his previous work on reflection and assessment with the reflective cover letter. Neal notes an interesting phenomenon resulting from the large-scale adoption of portfolio reflective letters in educational contexts: “the relationship between reflection and assessment […] became so closely related they were often used interchangeably and thus are difficult to distinguish” (p. 69). Here, Neal critiques Edward M. White’s (2005) Phase 2 model for portfolio assessment: Assessing reflection alone is only assessing the argument and not the evidence for the argument. As a faculty member who has often been in the thick of programmatic assessment, and who has felt pressures alongside colleagues tasked with evaluating a large number of end-of-semester portfolios, I found Neal’s issues with the Phase 2 model relatable and relevant as they echoed concerns often voiced and felt by faculty. Those of us who are conflicted when assessing portfolios because either the reflection appears disingenuous or disconnected from other portfolio materials will appreciate Neal’s chapter. 

In Chapter 13, Jeff Sommers addresses The Writer’s Memo, which he first presented in 1984. For Sommers, evaluations of student work in The Writer’s Memo raise questions for motivation and reflective experiences. The Writer’s Memo is a space to describe and analyze, but in Sommers’ evaluation the genre does not support a metacognitive articulation of learning. By adding an end-of-semester reflection, Sommers’ response integrates an end-of-semester reflection for methodological reflection to account for the limits of a Writer’s Memo; like Neal (ROR), Sommers’ work brings attention to the implications of genre selection for reflective practice. 

Doug Hesse’s work in Chapter 14 complicates the dynamics of a familiar genre. Using reflection as the frame for deconstructing essays in creative nonfiction, Hesse makes an interesting case for the reflective activity inherent in the genre. As Hesse notes, “the line between reflection and interpretation is dusty” (p. 292). For Sommers (Chapter 13) the Writer’s Memo invites description and analysis—interpretation. For Hesse, “Essays give the act of interpretation explicit attention through reflection” (p. 291). In a time where the art of a well-crafted essay has often lost its luster for students who only hear the words “five-paragraph” with the mention of the word “essay,” and where critical reading and critical reflection are not just buzzwords or good practice but also prudent for civic engagement, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter. 

Kevin Roozen (Chapter XX) takes up Odell, Goswami and Herrington’s (1983) focus on methodology as a vehicle for making implicit assumptions explicit. Using reflective interviews to develop a methodology that fosters constructive reflection (Yancey, 1998), Roozen’s chapter resists simple constructions of a writer or researcher identity. Like Roozen and Sommers (Chapter 13), Elizabeth Clark (Chapter 8) adopts a reflective, integrative method and pedagogy for reflection. Of interest to WAC and LAC assessment, Clark builds from Carol Rodger’s (2002) dimensions of reflection to reinforce student-centered learning, space for ambiguity, and time for recursive reflection that supports LAC. 

In Chapter 5, Cathy Leaker and Heather Ostman revisit their previous findings on the portfolio-based “rhetorical-reflective transfer” model for Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) (2010). Differently than Roozen (Chapter XX), Leaker and Ostman suggest assimilation is of value in academic contexts concerning the rhetoric of reflection. In Chapter 7, Asao B. Inoue and Tyler Richmond also address epistemic tensions in their preliminary study of four female Hmong students who struggle to negotiate both individual and communal identities within and beyond the classroom as observed through the students’ reflective letters. Inoue and Richmond propose this observation could affirm reflection, and what is valued in the assessment of reflections, as a racialized discourse—one that privileges “whiteness” and interpellates the Other. Though the study and sample was too small to be conclusive, Inoue and Richmond’s work and insights align with current observations in the field, giving much to consider especially for local assessment. Both chapters, I would argue, challenge current understandings of what is of value—and at stake—in the assessment of reflection. 


Odell, L., Goswami, D., Herrington, A. (1983). “The-Discourse-Based Interview: A Procedure for Exploring the Tacit Knowledge of Writers in Nonacademic Settings.” In Research on Writing: Principles and Methods, ed. Peter Mosenthal, Lynne Tamor, and Sean Walmsley, 221-36. New York: Longman. 

Sommers, J. (1984). “Listening to Our Students: The Student-Teacher Memo.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, 11(1): 29-34. 

White, E. M. (2005). “The Scoring of Writing Portfolios: Phase 2.” College Composition and Communication, 56(4): 581-600. 

Yancey, K. B. (Eds.) (1998). Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Logan: Utah State UP.
Source: jwa

A Review of Kathleen Blake Yancey’s A Rhetoric of Reflection

Part I: A Comprehensive Review

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, ed. (2016). A Rhetoric of Reflection. Logan: Utah State UP.

By Julie Cook, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Note: This is the first installment of a three-part review (see Part 2: Explicit Implications for Assessment; Part 3: Implicit Implications for Assessment)

A Rhetoric of Reflection (ROR) is an important, critical, and timely text that offers much to consider for those interested in the assessment of writing, critical thinking, Learning Across the Curriculum (LAC), Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), and Teaching for Transfer (TFT). As important as what might be assessed is where one might find the text applicable for assessment considerations: in classrooms, programs, departments, and institutions, at both local and national levels.

Edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey, the collection of 17 essays offers a multi-faceted approach to reflection that “fosters an explicitness about learning and supports all of us in articulating and claiming what we know [emphasis added]” (Yancey, p. 11). As an “epistemological practice” and subject of study, reflection, as Yancey observes, “is considerably more complex than the literature has suggested” (p. 303). For the purposes of my reviews (see post 2 and post 3), I will largely focus on what ROR offers to understand the concept of reflection, its applications for writing studies, and implications for writing assessment. The text has much to offer across disciplines, as reflection is increasingly becoming integral for many fields of study and, likewise, as our current understanding of reflection is informed by interdisciplinary approaches to its study. However, ROR is also not “an introduction to” reflection. Those new to reflection, writing studies, the classroom, or assessment will likely benefit most from Yancey’s introduction, Anne Beaufort’s contribution in Chapter 2, and the authors’ dialogic reference lists.

Readers will find the current scholarship on reflection does not provide neat answers. While this collection in no way shies away from ambiguity or conflict, and more precisely positions its work as a sophisticated model of meaning-making through problem-posing, perhaps the most significant contribution comes through in its main area of agreement across texts. As Yancey articulates, this collection demonstrates that reflection is rhetorical: It is a product and a process where “a primary function … is to make a kind [emphasis added] of meaning” (p. 18).

Fittingly, Yancey authors the final chapter of ROR but in no way provides closure. Rather, she identifies “a way forward” by coalescing even the disjointed parts of ROR to suggest areas we still need to know more about (p. 318). She thus leaves readers with a series of critical questions to consider, noting “we don’t have all the answers” (p. 320). Understanding reflection as an epistemological practice and subject of study, Yancey’s closing questions are necessary and act as a preamble to inquiries likely to follow the scholarship of ROR. Although the title of Yancey’s closing chapter is “Defining Reflection: The Rhetorical Nature and Qualities of Reflection,” reflection, in its current state, is defined though its characteristics; it is describable but not definable. As a subject of study, this collection demonstrates that while there are recognizable qualities within its process and practice, there are also “competing values in reflection (Yancey, p. 319). In turn, the second and third installments of my review address how contributors’ work speaks to and revises each other.
Source: jwa

Part II: A Review of Ben Fink and Robin Brown’s The Problem with Education Technology (Hint: It’s Not the Technology)

Fink, B., & Brown, R. (2016). The problem with education technology (Hint: It’s not the technology). Boulder, CO: Utah State University Press.

By Justin Vaught, University of Alabama

Note: This is part two of a two-part review.

Recently, I provided a summary of Ben Fink and Robin Brown’s The Problem with Education Technology (Hint: It’s Not the Technology). Here, I move from that general review into a critique of Fink and Brown’s assertions. Specifically, I examine weaknesses in their generalizations about the educational workforce and their focus on expedient solutions; however, I also recognize the potential they’ve created for further advancement of the topic.

In my earlier post, I mentioned Fink and Brown’s central claim: that prioritization of labor-saving devices in education results in institutional propagation of socioeconomic disparity. The first half of this argument is logical: If mastery of durable dispositions is linked to student-instructor interaction and teacher labor, then those who have the means to afford more individualized education will continue to be privileged by mechanized assessment. By increasing the chances of obtaining further education and attractive employment, such imbalanced academic achievement heightens the odds that those students will repeat the cycle and provide their own children with similar educational advantages. However, the authors’ decision to levy significant guilt for this cycle upon teachers (themselves included) is expedient and simplistic. Their claim that “Education in the United States is not social, human, or empowering, and we can’t blame that on the machine […] We made it what it is” (pp. 28-29) ignores the financial, geographic, familial, and market factors which force educators to acquiesce to the implementation of sub-standard pedagogy.

The negative features of our educational system extend far beyond the situations of individual teachers. Many of the educators Fink and Brown cast as responsible for large-scale reform are likely more concerned with finding, and retaining, jobs. Their tacit consent to the application of inadequate praxis is not born of blindness or ineptitude, but of necessity: Societal and political trends toward slashed budgets and devaluation of education have left them with no other option. Fink and Brown insist upon speaking for these teachers, admitting that “we have continued to […] teach in thoroughly mechanizable ways – without recognizing what we were doing” and “we’ve already made education robotic” (p. 27). Assigning a single voice to “we” teachers ignores this group’s unique backgrounds and innovative pedagogies (both of which hold real potential for combating mechanization). Granted, a short book such as this requires some simplification, but in generalizing teachers as a scapegoat for such a complex issue, Fink and Brown do more harm than good.

As the authors work toward proposing a solution, The Problem with Education Technology addresses a common villain in the composition classroom: the perfunctory paper (pp. 23-26). Fink and Brown contend that papers are ineffective at teaching skills such as argumentation, use of evidence, and rhetorically effective writing (p. 26). Instead, like standardized examinations, these assignments emphasize only the basic dispositions mentioned above, further mechanizing the writing process. This transition is meant to reinforce Fink and Brown’s accusation that teachers are at fault for this progression in assessment, not technology. Specifically, the authors claim companies such as ETS, Pearson, and Vantage did not create the academic battlefield we now face; they just capitalized on an extant situation for which educators are responsible (pp. 26-27). Here, Fink and Brown have the opportunity to parse the differences between liability for current issues and responsibility for their gradual repair, but instead they conflate the two while brushing aside educational realities which force teachers to consent to destructive practices. For example, the authors choose not to explore concepts like negative washback, a phenomenon in which teachers modify curricula to align with and address testing requirements. Such a discussion would likely reveal that these teachers, rather than dictate destructive assessment practices, instead respond to them as best they can. By glossing over such nuanced situations, the authors create a simplistic paradigm that allows them to mop up constrictive, biased policies with a generic call to action.

This problematic strategy is what enables such a small book to endeavor to solve such broad and seemingly-permanent problems. Having accused teachers of creating and perpetuating these issues, Fink and Brown next attack from two fronts. First, they insist the move toward standardization can be disrupted by teachers willing to divert extra effort and time toward crafting intricate assignments with unique rhetorical challenges (p. 31). They offer multiple alternatives to the stereotypical “write a paper” prompt, including asking students to compose and send emails to friends and family, and challenging students to edit Wikipedia in a manner that avoids removal by the website’s editing Bots (pp. 29-32). However, such solutions are like a Band-Aid for a broken bone: They don’t address the larger issue of institutional reliance on assessment systems, which, whether technologically enabled or still reliant on human labor, are mechanized beyond the point of detriment to students. Confronted by the need for systemic change, Fink and Brown introduce their second call to action. They propose that teachers, parents, and students must organize, not in an alignment against all educational technology, nor in panels and presentations at academic events, nor in ephemeral statements and signatures, but in “hordes” and “networks” bursting with people aligned by a common agenda (pp. 35-37). The authors close by noting the majority of educators support their cause, an encouraging sentiment; however, their claim that “the problem is ours to solve” is both daunting and, as I have already noted, unnecessarily troubling for teachers with more immediate personal concerns.

Fink and Brown’s presentation is engaging, but also riddled with complications. The Problem with Educational Technology provides introductory material necessary for readers seeking to engage in scholarly conversation about mechanized assessment, and its minimal length and informality allow for rapid consumption with high retention. However, its final call to action is concerning, as it strays perilously close to claiming that the end justifies the means: “We may not like [our allies…] but we’ll work together anyway” (p. 37). This book is useful in generating awareness about a major educational issue and in its efforts to simplify and contextualize complex arguments within writing assessment for the uninitiated reader, but those same simplifications weaken its overall effects. Despite its shortcomings, The Problem with Education Technology proves itself worthwhile by informing readers about an imminent threat to both teacher and student well-being and by helping ignite critical conversations about the role of united advocacy in finding an effective solution.

Source: jwa

A Review of Ben Fink and Robin Brown’s The Problem with Education Technology (Hint: It’s Not the Technology)

Fink, B., & Brown, R. (2016). The problem with education technology (Hint: It’s not the technology). Boulder, CO: Utah State University Press.

By Justin Vaught, University of Alabama

Note: This is part one of a two-part review.

For the first time in ninety years, students across the country face a fundamentally redesigned SAT. Among changes meant to address the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and “provide a more accurate measure of a student’s college and career readiness” is the replacement of the required essay with an optional, longer prompt focused on textual analysis (Domonske, 2016). The adaptations this infamous exam has made to CCSS requirements bring to light many current conflicts in assessment practice, several of which are addressed by Ben Fink and Robin Brown’s The Problem with Education Technology (Hint: It’s Not the Technology) (2016). The latest installment in Utah State University Press’ Current Arguments in Composition series, this short publication discusses and critiques the mechanical nature of modern education. Fink and Brown explore the computerized scoring systems that have been created to evaluate student writing, and inform readers about some of the most controversial contemporary debates in writing assessment, including the mechanization of human graders, the socioeconomic implications of standardized testing, and the reprehensible conditions with which elementary and contingent faculty must cope. This first post offers an overview of the book; the second will offer my critique.

Fink and Brown ease into these contentious issues by first reviewing two prevailing narratives surrounding technology in the classroom: the “teachers versus technology” binary (p. 4) and its counterpart, the “teachers get offered a break” trope (p. 13). These narratives frame the book’s focus on Automated Essay Scoring (AES) systems, which are described as having the potential to eliminate the modern writing teacher and as labor-saving devices. However, Fink and Brown are not primarily concerned with the merits of these assessment systems. Instead, they use AES as an example of current educational attitudes and practices in their critique.

Noting that in education, “labor saving devices haven’t worked, don’t work, can’t work,” the authors discuss the immense labor investment required of teachers to produce what Bordieu (1990) called “durable dispositions”: enduring and effective ways of observing and engaging with the world (pp. 16-17). Such dispositions help students determine effective, appropriate ways of evaluating and responding to novel, challenging situations. Typically second-nature and often intangible, these dispositions rely more on tacit understanding than stated rules and standards. Modern educators may recognize these “habits of mind” as enumerated in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, which features concepts such as “persistence”, “responsibility”, and “metacognition”. These “ways of approaching learning that are both intellectual and practical” are gleaned through observation and emulation, and they are difficult to directly examine; however, students with greater command of such dispositions are more able to apply these abilities when confronted with scholastic assessments.

Less privileged students, in their attempts to replace these dispositions, often turn to alternative means to make up for their deficiency in labor investment. Among these means is the “fake industry” (p. 18), which purports to help students master strategic formulas that “ensure” success on standardized tests. Fink and Brown argue such formulas cannot replace durable dispositions, and instead claim the fake industry illuminates a fundamental flaw in mechanized assessment and other labor-saving educational strategies. Specifically, they demonstrate that in most cases this industry only further enables those who already possess the necessary cultural capital to succeed. Struggling students continue to flounder while those with better command of durable dispositions simply fold new formulas into their extant constructs; in other words, those “who could successfully fake it [are] the ones who [are] already pretty much able to do it for real” (p. 18). This means a focus on labor-saving education and assessment methods results in testing which measures whether students are “privileged enough: lucky enough to have had all the necessary labor invested in [them]” (p. 20, emphasis original). Students fortunate enough to enjoy a more specialized and individualized education are likely to excel in these standardized testing environments, making quantitative markers of success easier to attain while also increasing the availability of future academic opportunities, including collegiate placements and scholarships.

Meanwhile, students of lower socioeconomic status are restrained by these tests. Because of educational experiences that include a lower degree of teacher labor investment, these students have likely encountered fewer opportunities to develop durable dispositions. Systematic examinations implicitly emphasize many of these dispositions by prioritizing formulaic structure and content over unique or creative student responses, and thus exacerbate the labor-related shortcomings of these students. AES is particularly at fault here, as such systems are the worst offenders in this dangerous prioritization. The result is an automatic disadvantage in assessment amplified by mechanization: The more mechanical a system’s methodology, the more it hinders students who are unaware of, or unable to appeal to, systematic features. Although their abilities may extend elsewhere, less privileged students who lack consistently effective means of engagement with examinations are unfairly assessed.

This issue is complicated by the financial benefits of labor reduction: although labor-saving devices don’t work for teachers and students, Fink and Brown recognize that such devices are attractive to the legislators and administrators responsible for making budgetary decisions (p. 22). The authors problematize the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), another labor-saving alternative to the traditional classroom. MOOCs, though attractive for their affordability and accessibility, are academically unsatisfying as they lack both substantial content and constructive interaction between students and teachers, and feature low rates of student completion (pp. 20-21). They, like AES systems, are not an effective shortcut to labor reduction; however, in an observation reminiscent of Bousquet’s How the University Works (2008), Fink and Brown mention “the history of education policy […] is the history of cuts,” and so MOOCs continue to be emphasized in budgetary decisions (p. 22). It is in this discussion of MOOCs the authors reach their central argument: By prioritizing labor-saving devices as cost-reducing alternatives to institutional labor, educators “tacitly consent” to a construct which reinforces and solidifies socioeconomic disparity (p. 23).


Bordieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Bousquet, M. (2008). How the University Works. New York: New York University Press.

Domonoske, C. (2016). Students Across U.S. Take New SAT A) Saturday B) Sunday C) None Of The Above. The Two Way: Breaking News from NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/03/05/469307788/students-across-u-s-take-new-sat-a-saturday-b-sunday-c-none-of-the-above

Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (2011). CWPA, NCTE & NWP.

Source: jwa


Journal of Writing Assessment Editorial Team will be at the 2017 Conference on College Composition and Communication this week.  We’d love to see you and talk with you about your ideas for publications with JWA!

On Wednesday, March 15 from 1:15-2:30 PM, Diane Kelly-Riley will be at the Research Network Forum’s Editors Roundtable in the Oregon Convention Center, Portland Ballrooms 256, 257, and 258.

On Friday, March 17 from 12-1 PM, Carl Whithaus will be at the Independent Rhetoric and Composition Journals table in the Exhibit Hall in the Oregon Convention Center.  We’ll be in Booth 303.

Our JWA Editorial Team will be at 4C17–keep an eye out for Diane Kelly-Riley, Ti Macklin, Jessica Nastal-Dema, and Carl Whithaus.

We’d love to meet with you to talk about your enthusiastic ideas for potential publications with the Journal of Writing Assessment or our the JWA Reading List.  Email us at journalofwritingassessment@gmail.com to set up an appointment!

Source: jwa

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/.

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

Source: jwa