Review of Deborah Cursan’s “Writing Assessment Literacy”

Reviewed by Madeline Crozier, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Crusan, D. (2021). Writing assessment literacy. In H. Mohebbi & C. Coombe (Eds.), Research questions in language education and applied linguistics: A reference guide (pp. 431-435). Springer Texts in Education.

In any composition classroom, writing assessment facilitates student learning, literacy acquisition, and writing development. Effective writing assessment is necessary for meaningful teaching and learning. However, teacher preparation programs and writing pedagogy education curricula may lack a focus on assessment, leaving instructors without enough experience, preparation, or training to assess student writing in the classroom. This is the practical and theoretical problem that drives Deborah Crusan’s emphasis on writing assessment literacy (WAL) in her contribution to the comprehensive collection Research Questions in Language Education and Applied Linguistics: A Reference Guide, an academic tome edited by Hassan Mohebbi and Christine Coombe (2021). In her five-page reference entry—one among 152 research topics in the reference guide—Crusan concisely introduces the WAL framework, identifies relevant research questions, and suggests additional resources. This brief, accessible resource, along with many useful additions to the collection, offers a starting point for assessment researchers, scholars, and practitioners to begin lines of inquiry into WAL development. Taken altogether, the collection provides a rare resource for scholars seeking exigencies for meaningful writing research, and Crusan’s addition highlights the crucial, yet often overlooked, impact of WAL on writing assessment.

As Crusan (2021) explains, WAL refers to a construct that helps explain how writing instructors’ assessment knowledge and beliefs inform their assessment practices. Some of the skills and knowledge encompassed by WAL include “the ability of teachers to create effective assignments and their accompanying scoring tools, to understand the reasons for assessing their students’ writing, . . . and to carry on their assessment duties ethically and conscientiously” (p. 431). Crusan (2021) underscores that WAL guides instructors to make informed decisions about their assessment practices. Because assessment impacts student learning in significant ways, instructors need to be adequately trained to deliver effective and ethical writing assessment. Crusan (2021) notably highlights the “good assessment practices” of “fairness, accountability, and transparency” (p. 431) as necessary for classroom writing assessment and further suggests that instructors need to know how to create “effective, ethical rubrics” (p. 432). Although several decades of writing assessment scholarship has developed theories and best practices for effective writing assessment, this research does not always appear in teacher training programs or shape writing assessment practice. The ongoing divide between research, theory, and practice accounts for this misalignment and motivates more research to explore how instructors develop WAL to enhance writing assessment for teachers and, subsequently, their students. Crusan (2021) aptly navigates these dichotomies to demonstrate how researchers can bridge the gap between assessment theory and practice through the study of WAL development.

After defining WAL and situating the construct as a response to this research gap, Crusan (2021) provides ten research questions to guide studies of WAL development (p. 432). These questions are extremely useful for researchers and scholars who want to contribute to the field’s knowledge about writing assessment and teacher training. For instance, one of the research questions is, “What is the impact of teaching experience on writing assessment knowledge, beliefs, and practices?” (Crusan, 2021, p. 433). This question directs researchers to understand how different amounts and types of teaching experience shape instructors’ beliefs and knowledge about writing assessment. The question could generate a greater understanding about what types of experiences and training can best support instructors as they develop WAL. Another particularly useful research question is, “How can teaching be enhanced through writing assessment literacy?” (Crusan, 2021, p. 433). A research question like this understands that WAL does not only impact the instructors who deliver assessment but the students who receive assessment. This question points to the potential of understanding how instructors’ WAL shapes their assessment practices which subsequently impact their students. Crusan (2021), a leading researcher on second language writing assessment, writing teacher education, and WAL, conclusively argues the need for more research on this topic. She centers many of the questions around the experiences of second language writing teachers, but the research questions are adaptable to a range of contexts and institutions. By presenting ten unique avenues for inquiry, Crusan (2021) firmly establishes the importance of studying WAL.

The reference concludes with two pages of suggested resources for scholars who want to explore some of the most prevalent WAL research studies to date. Crusan (2021) recommends five resources, all written since 2015, with annotations that summarize the key points of each article. These articles include Crusan and colleagues’ 2016 study in which they surveyed 702 writing instructors to build a knowledge base for how instructors develop WAL. The additional resources connect some of the related terminology used to refer to WAL, such as language assessment literacy and teacher assessment literacy. The sources also explore WAL development for instructors across K-12 and higher education contexts in both U.S. and international educational settings. Ultimately, Crusan’s reference firmly establishes WAL as an imperative framework for writing program administrators, teacher trainers, and educators to understand. With Crusan’s reference entry as a resource, researchers can begin multifaceted inquiries into WAL and develop the field’s understanding of the importance and value of writing assessment in the composition classroom.