Editor’s Introduction | Summer 2023


The Journal of Writing Assessment’s Reading List is excited to release our Summer 2023 Issue!

Our reviews in this issue explore four recent books related to assessment across a spectrum of educational contexts, including K-12 classrooms, two-year colleges, and four-year institutions. The texts also cover a range of assessment areas, including writing placement, writing in and across the disciplines, equitable classroom assessment, and high-stakes standardized testing in K-12 contexts. Reviews of the following texts are represented in this issue:

We are thankful for the energy and hard work of all of our reviewers and we hope their reviews bring renewed attention to these texts and help our readers discover new scholarship to enrich their work. We’d also like to thank our amazing team of graduate assistant editors: Kathleen Kryger (University of Arizona), Jennifer Burke Reifman (University of California, Davis), Tiffany Smith (Georgia State University), and Sarah Stetson (Brown University).

As always, we are interested in recruiting new reviewers; you can be added to our list by filling out this form. We’re also always interested in recommendations for new texts in writing assessment to review (self-promotion is welcome!); you can contact us at jwareadinglist@gmail.com.


Stacy Wittstock | Assistant Editor, JWA Reading List | University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Chris Blankenship | Assistant Editor, JWA Reading List | Salt Lake Community College

Review of Diane Kelly-Riley and Norbert Elliot’s Improving Outcomes: Disciplinary Writing, Local Assessment, and the Aim of Fairness

Reviewed by Anthony Lince, University of California, San Diego

Kelly-Riley, D., & Elliot, N. (Eds.). (2020). Improving outcomes: Disciplinary writing, local assessment, and the aim of fairness. Modern Language Association.

When it comes to assessment, our field is currently having challenging, but much-needed, conversations—some of which are focused on equity, linguistic justice, and student agency. Asao Inoue (2019), for example, has pushed back against traditional grading practices and, is instead, in favor of labor-based grading contracts, which, Inoue asserts, “attempt to form an inclusive, more diverse ecological place, one that can be antiracist and anti-White supremacist by its nature (p. 13). These conversations around assessment, however, aren’t exclusive to our field. In Susan D. Blum’s (2020) edited collection, Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead), educators in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields all wrestle with how they can move away from grading practices that are punitive and not student-centered. (For an excellent overview of this book, check out Michelle Tram Nguyen’s recent review on the JWA Reading List.)

Improving Outcomes: Disciplinary Writing, Local Assessment, and the Aim of Fairness—a collection edited by Diane Kelly-Riley and Norbert Elliot—contributes to this important conversation on assessment with a focus on fairness and assessment across the disciplines. Kelly-Riley and Elliot note that, “within this collection, fairness operates as an integrative principle” (p. 1). Though, fairness isn’t thought of as a monolithic idea that can be applied to all fields. Instead, as Anne Ruggles Gere makes clear in her foreword, “by recognizing and valuing the discourses of a given discipline, writing assessment can enact fairness in assessment rather than applying inflexible standards to all fields” (p. vi). She continues: “the best assessment is constructed locally, and, for college students, the disciplines in which they enroll become a local context” (p. vi). Naturally, then, to discuss this varied, and situated, idea of fairness, the contributors in this collection span the disciplines—from nursing to engineering, writing studies, and architecture—and are from a range of academic contexts: two- and four-year to public and private institutions. Constructed around putting “fairness at the center” of writing instruction and assessment (p. 5), this collection is divided into four parts: “Values,” “Foundational Issues,” “Disciplinary Writing,” and “Location.”

The contributors of part one, “Values,” all examine the unique needs of students within specific academic contexts and how educational values should be tied to those needs. Mya Poe begins part one with her essay, “A Matter of Aim: Disciplinary Writing, Writing Assessment, and Fairness.” She turns to assessment research to “examine two common frames for writing assessment in the disciplines—program accreditation and classroom research” (p. 17), concluding that considerations around student fairness are often ignored in both frames. Ruth Osorio’s essay, “A Disability-as-Insight Approach to Multimodal Assessment,” lays out ways in which a disability-as-insight model can be used “as a path that merges fairness—designing assessments that allow for diverse and flexible methods for achieving the primary goal of an assignment—and social justice” (p. 29). Brooke A. Carlson and Cari Ryan, in “Fairness as Pedagogy: Uniformity, Transparency, and Equity through Trajectory-Based Responses to Writing in Hawai’i,” use rubrics as a tool to promote fairness by being transparent with students about the evaluative methods in which they will be graded.

The contributors of part two, “Foundational Issues,” outline educational measurement as socially situated. The first essay argues for seeing assessment as an evidentiary argument—with a focus on students developing competencies in valued activities (Mislevy). Benander and Refaei, in their essay, detail how their basic writing courses have outcomes that are fairly assessed “through shared rubrics tailored to the interests of each student” (p. 67). The next essay explores how peer-feedback can be embedded in classrooms as a means to promote fairness (Hart-Davidson and Meeks). Erick Montenegro, in the penultimate essay of part two, asserts that “assessment efforts must become culturally responsive” to better understand the learning gains made by students (p. 93). The last essay in part two argues for faculty members to learn about various disciplinary perspectives to create shared learning outcomes at specific institutions (Schneider and Hennings).

In part three, “Disciplinary Writing,” the scholars focus on assessments that are situated within their specific educational contexts. The first essay argues for a strengthened connection between high school and college literacies (Farris). The next essay’s authors discuss how they use evidence-based assessment in their first-year composition program to promote programmatic fairness (Buyserie, Macklin, Frye, and Ericsson). Singer-Freeman and Bastone, in their essay, argue for reflective writing in a child development course to help students think deeply about their own lives and the course content. In an architecture writing course, Hogrefe and Briller argue for reflective practices that can help their diverse cohort of students. In their essay, Maneval and Ward discuss how the incorporation of nursing-specific writing genre assignments in nursing classes could elevate writing itself as a practice. Williams, in the last essay of part three, discusses issues of fairness as it relates to assessment within science, engineering, and mathematics courses.

“Location,” part four, closes the collection by having essays that move beyond traditional four-year institutions. Rasmussen and Reid consider questions around transfer and equal opportunity at their two-year college. Whithaus, in the next essay, considers how “localized assessments can attend to fairness, as well as validity and reliability,” not only face-to-face but online and in hybrid classes as well (p. 213). Rhodes, in the final essay of part four and in this edited collection, discusses accreditation as something that can, and should, “affirm institutional commitment to fairness for students’ access to, and achievement of, quality learning” (p. 225).

Taken together, there were parts of this collection that strongly resonated with me. A disability-as-insight approach for multimodal assessment (Osorio) helps me consider the ways I can construct my classrooms and assignments to best help all learners succeed, especially students who learn in non-normative ways. Mya Poe’s essay was also illuminating as she illustrated the racial harm that placement tests can have on certain students. And Hogrefe and Briller, in their essay on an architecture writing program, provided a wonderful message for any teacher or program director to take away: to have authenticity of curriculum, “students [should be] placed at the center of our efforts and treated as colleagues” (p. 170).

On the other hand, the essays in this collection that had a focus on using rubrics weren’t, for me, all that convincing. Those authors claimed that rubrics can be fair because they are transparent for students. However, I question this claim, and I wonder how transparent racially situated biases can be through the use of rubrics. Furthermore, in my experience, rubrics seem to erase individuality, not promote diverse thinking. If fairness is the goal, rubrics seem to hinder that outcome.

With that noted, the conversations in this book centered on fairness and assessment are crucial for our field and others to have. Any rhetoric and writing studies scholar can find engaging ideas here, but I’d specifically recommend this collection to new rhet/comp scholars entering the field and/or to those in other disciplines wanting to integrate writing into their programs—and, by extension, assessment of that writing—with the aim of being fair.


Blum, S. (2020). Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead). West Virginia University Press.

Inoue, A. B. (2019). Labor-based grading contracts: Building equity and inclusion in the compassionate writing classroom. WAC Clearinghouse https://doi.org/10.37514/PER-B.2019.0216.0

Nguyen, M. (2022). [Review of the book Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead)]. The Journal of Writing Assessment Reading List.

Review of Sandra Murphy and Peggy O’Neill’s Assessing Writing to Support Learning: Turning Accountability Inside Out

Reviewed by Jeremy Levine, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Murphy, S., & O’Neill, P. (2023). Assessing writing to support learning: Turning accountability inside out. Routledge.

Sandra Murphy and Peggy O’Neill’s (2023) Assessing Writing to Support Learning: Turning Accountability Inside Out synthesizes existing research on writing assessment, psychometrics, and writing pedagogy to argue that teachers should be at the center of the school accountability system. Foregrounding formative assessment processes such as portfolio grading, Murphy and O’Neill propose a framework through which ecological writing assessment (which has been applied at the post-secondary level, per Wardle and Roozen 2012; Inoue 2015) can be brought to K-12 instruction. In the book’s first chapter, they argue that such a pivot will reduce the extent to which high-stakes assessment narrows writing curricula, account for a fuller picture of writers’ knowledge aligned with modern research, and include teachers as active decision-makers in writing assessment. This claim illuminates the administrative and policy risks of hitching the K-12 writing assessment wagon to standardized tests: because of their limited view, tests can misguide administrators and the public about what our students know about writing. On the teaching side, the emphasis on the narrowed curriculum could also include examination of the contextual nature of testing’s influence on instruction (McCarthey, 2008) and how teachers mediate testing expectations through their own goals for writing (e.g. Wahleithner, 2018). These local concerns shift the book’s exigence slightly: teachers are already making writing assessment their own; a more productive policy paradigm would build on this teacher agency, rather than create obstacles for it.

Chapter Two is a crash course in writing assessment, overviewing the fundamental concepts of reliability and validity. Validity is of particular interest to Murphy and O’Neill, who make two validity-based critiques of high-stakes testing. The first is that the accountability system must take consequential validity seriously: that the purpose of administering a test affects how teachers and students approach it, meaning the curricular changes that accompany high-stakes testing are a threat to the test’s validity. Second, standardized testing has weaknesses in terms of construct validity: the extent to which a test measures what it claims to. The construct validity critique is built on the concept that student text is not necessarily a stand-in for student writing knowledge, as a student’s ability to produce a specific genre under testing circumstances cannot speak to their rhetorical flexibility or approach to writing across genres, purposes, or settings. This claim about construct validity helpfully builds on the growing body of research that locates substantial portions of writing development as taking place off the page, including concepts such as dispositions and identities (see Driscoll & Zhang, 2022). The importance of each of these concerns is made clear in Chapter Three, which focuses on evolving theories of writing and writing instruction. Accounting for both social and cognitive theories of writing, O’Neill and Murphy offer an overview of writing concepts (e.g. writing as expression, writing as a product, writing as a social activity, etc.) and instructional practices (writing for a real audience, building genre knowledge, participating in peer review, reflecting). Composition researchers will surely recognize these lists of concepts, but they do important work in demonstrating how out-of-step a high-stakes exam is with theories of writing instruction (a blow to its consequential validity) and to how writing is understood (a blow to its construct validity).

With these flaws in high-stakes assessment established, the rest of the book pivots toward solutions. The first of two goals in Chapter Four is to outline classroom-scale models of formative assessment that give students opportunities to reflect on their own writing processes. To illustrate the rigor of such formative assessments, and demonstrate their promise of improving metacognition, O’Neill and Murphy offer several examples of self-assessment rubrics that may help teachers and students identify key facets of the writing process to focus on. The second goal of Chapter 4 is to describe approaches for large-scale assessment practices that align with the cognitive and social characteristics of writing described in the third chapter. This means conceiving of writing as a task- or context-specific activity, which in testing circumstances might involve portfolio assessment, assessments that integrate reading and writing, collaborative writing, and digital or multimodal writing tasks. These recommendations culminate in the authors’ invocation for accountability to be turned “inside-out,” putting the complexity of writing, and the needs of students, at the forefront of writing assessment on a large scale, rather than prioritizing the psychometric approach of standardization and controlling variability. These arguments for rewriting large-scale writing assessment lead to questions about what happens when these measures are attached to accountability systems. For example, portfolio assessment at the state level may absorb all student writing into a bureaucratic system (Scott, 2008), or schools may feel undue pressure to improve, say, “writing motivation” scores, and as a result, could focus more on scores than on actual writing motivation (see Koretz, 2017). O’Neill and Murphy make a strong case for why these elements must be included in large-scale assessment; the question is what the implications might be once that happens.

Chapters Five and Six offer strategies for bringing the recommendations from Chapter Four into reality. Chapter Five focuses on methods for redesigning writing assessment, arguing that teachers need to be at the center of assessment processes because teachers are ultimately responsible for implementing classroom changes. To make this change a reality, O’Neill and Murphy propose investing in professional development, involving teachers in assessment design, and supporting collaboration across levels of education. The sixth and final chapter of the volume focuses on an ecological model of writing assessment. Building on the work of Inoue (2015) and Wardle and Roozen (2012), both of whom focus on assessment ecologies at the post-secondary level, the authors offer an invocation for similar frameworks to make their way into K-12 schools. Combined with the emerging psychometric concept of ecological validity, this chapter’s focus on ecologies creates a “springboard for action” (p. 192) that can mobilize teachers and researchers toward shifting the terms of control for assessment and accountability in the United States. This strategy combines rather nicely with parallel calls for reform in education studies, which suggest student surveys (Schneider et. al, 2021) or inspectorates (Berner, 2017) may be more productive (and ecologically-minded) assessment systems. As O’Neill and Murphy conceptualize it, writing can be a productive window into school life, thereby giving it the potential to be especially useful in these imagined reforms.

In total, Assessing Writing to Support Learning: Turning Accountability Inside Out offers conversation-starting concepts for multiple audiences. For policymakers at school, local, and even state levels, it illustrates how modern conceptions of accountability are out-of-step with best practices in writing instruction and assessment. For instructors at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels, it invites reflection around how classroom assessment practices can be used to foster students’ learning about writing, and when or how such assessment practices can become disconnected from assessment. For researchers on writing, it offers a framework for conceptualizing validity on ecological terms and invites future inquiry on the intersection of classroom assessment and policy concerns. Primarily grounded in research and concepts from writing studies, its connections to education reform – implementation, accountability, and possibilities for reform – leave lingering questions regarding how the proposed ecological model of assessment can be implemented as policy. At its core, the text is a reminder that classrooms are about relationships between students and teachers, and this relationship — not the concerns of parties outside of that room — should be at the center of conversations about learning.


Berner, A (2017). Would School Inspections Work in the United States? Johns Hopkins School of Education, Institute for Education Policy.

Driscoll, D. L., & Zhang, J. (2022, March). Mapping long-term writing experiences: Operationalizing the writing development model for the study of persons, processes, contexts, and time. In Composition Forum (Vol. 48). Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition.

Inoue, A. B. (2015). Antiracist writing assessment ecologies: Teaching and assessing writing for a socially just future. Parlor Press.

Koretz, D. (2017). The testing charade: Pretending to make schools better. University of Chicago Press

McCarthey, S. J. (2008). The impact of No Child Left Behind on teachers’ writing instruction. Written Communication, 25(4), 462-505

Murphy, S., & O’Neill, P. (2022). Assessing writing to support learning: Turning accountability inside out. Taylor & Francis.

Schneider, J., Noonan, J., White, R. S., Gagnon, D., & Carey, A. (2021). Adding “student voice” to the mix: Perception surveys and state accountability systems. AERA Open, 7, 1-18.

Scott, T. (2008). “Happy to comply”: Writing assessment, fast-capitalism, and the cultural logic of control. The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 30(2), 140-161.

Wahleithner, J. M. (2018). Five portraits of teachers’ experiences teaching writing: Negotiating knowledge, student need, and policy. Teachers College Record, 120(1), 1-60

Wardle, E., & Roozen, K. (2012). Addressing the complexity of writing development: Toward an ecological model of assessment. Assessing Writing17(2), 106-119.

Review of Henning et al.’s Reframing Assessment to Center Equity: Theories, Models, and Practices

Reviewed by Stephanie Hedge, University of Illinois, Springfield

Henning, G. W., Jankowski, N. A., Montenegro, E., Baker, G. R., & Lundquist, A. E. (Eds.). (2022). Reframing assessment to center equity: Theories, models, and practices. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

It has become increasingly unethical to ignore the role that higher education plays in the perpetuation of systemic injustices and inequalities, and many individuals and institutions are looking for ways to upend these systems to fulfill the promise and power of a higher education for all who enter these hallowed halls. But challenging entrenched systems of power is a big ask, and uncertainty about where or how to start that work is a barrier that can turn activist desire into stagnation or apathy. Reframing Assessment to Center Equity: Theories, Models, and Practices offers one avenue for starting this work: building and implementing assessment lenses, frameworks, and practices that center ideologies of equity, both as practice (how we conduct assessment) and purpose (using assessment to discover and remediate equity gaps). The editors of this text are engaged in a passionate call to action, inviting the reader to take what they learn in this “companion on an equity journey” (p. xvi) to make real, meaningful change. The second chapter, “The Assessment Activist,” by Divya Samuga_Gyaanam+Bheda, all but begs the reader to deliberately, consciously, purposefully, and repeatedly, pick up the mantle of activist and start doing the work of making change (p. 25), and the following 18 chapters outline concretely how to do that work. Do not just read this book and put it back down, the editors implore, but use it as the starting point for disrupting systems of oppression. The words are nothing without the work.

Editors Gavin W. Henning, Gianina R. Baker, Natasha A. Jankowski, Anne E. Lundquist, and Erick Montenegro balance theory and practice, following “a framework of ‘what, why, how, and now what’” (p. xv) as they unpack what equity centered assessment desires to be and why it is vital and urgent before moving to sharing specific, concrete examples of what this looks like in practice, from the individual classroom to the larger institution. This text figures assessment as a kind of lever for institutional change, a practice that determines what questions are asked, what stories are told, and what voices are heard. The book invites readers to think about assessment beyond a “compliance/improvement divide” (p. 326), and instead as a “transformative process on behalf of social justice and decolonization in the academy and the world” (p. 303).

The central claim of this text is that assessment is never neutral, which is both a critique and a call for change. Editors Montenegro and Henning point out that assessment “is planned and carried out by people and conducted within social institutions guided by norms, policies, assumptions, and preferences, which means bias is inherently part of the process because assessment is socially situated” (p. 5). This text argues that if those of us who conduct assessment are not deliberate in our framing—if we do not explicitly and consciously choose a methodology that centers equity—we are using the “default” frameworks of oppression, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. “Assessment is complicit in either exacerbating the equity problem already existing in higher education today or mitigating it. It is not a value neutral exercise,” says Bheda in her chapter, before inviting the reader to be a “revolutionary assessment activist” (p. 33). Changing the frameworks that we use for deciding what, when, how, and why to conduct assessment has the potential to create ideological and epistemic shifts institutionally, and the text shares several different approaches to doing this work. In the first chapter, Montenegro and Henning offer series of research paradigms (similar to Janet Emig’s 1982 Inquiry Paradigms, although she is not cited here) that explain the underlying epistemologies that guide assessment methods and call for the adoption of frameworks and paradigms that either make space for or explicitly require a focus on equity and social justice (p. 14). The third chapter explores a series of historical assessment “lenses,” tracing the broad approaches of assessment practice through time to point out the equity gaps in assessment historically and argue for a new lens that centers equity. Chapter four provides “The Current State of Scholarship on Assessment” and acts as a mini-encyclopedia of relevant topics, definitions, and schools of thought, while chapter five unpacks the promise and power of storytelling as an assessment strategy. Closing out the first part of their text, chapters six and seven share models, approaches, and lenses to thinking about equity-centered assessment, giving concrete, specific changes to make in existing assessment systems to center equity. The authors are careful to avoid advocating for a single approach, and rather provide the tools for thinking critically about existing frameworks and epistemologies and shifting towards equity.

That said, throughout the text, the editors pay particular attention to Indigenous ways of knowing and being in the world. There are sections in the framing chapters dedicated to Indigenous epistemologies, and chapter 7 works to “elevate the work of decolonization and Indigeneity and provide an example of that in practice” (p. 112), acting as showcase for the ways that shifts in an assessment lens lead to particular kinds of assessment practices. The authors are careful to include Indigenous voices in this chapter (and others) as they lift up this specific paradigm.

Following on from the required shifts in worldview asked by the first part of the text, part three dives into what this kind of assessment looks like in practice. The authors are quick to point out that changes in perspective are the first step, but they are just the first step, and more work is required. “There is no checklist or four-step process to attain equity” (p. 327) Bheda, Jankowski, and Peter Felten argue in the closing chapter, but there are ways to do this work in multiple different spaces, as chapters tackle the particulars of assessment in class meetings and assignment development; opening assessment practices to meaningful explorations of the environment and the inclusion of student voices; moving assessment to cocurricular spaces and student affairs; and thinking about assessment in STEM, at community colleges, and at HBCUs. While much of the first section of this text was authored by the editors, the chapters in part three are all authored by the diverse scholars and assessment practitioners who did the work, tracing their practices as a how-to guide for making meaningful change in higher ed.

This book ends the way that it opens: with a call to action. “There is a lot of good trouble assessment professionals can get into, and you have agency” (p. 339), the editors say. Deciding to do this work is the first step. It is not the hardest step (for this work is hard), but it requires the greatest conviction, and it requires community, intentionality, and a measure of risk. Picking up this book is the start of doing that work, which the editors acknowledge as they invite the reader into further conversation in the conclusion. But the work is worth doing. And this text seeks to empower the reader to do the work; to change the world. The book ends with a challenge: “what are you going to do with this newfound power?” (p. 339). How will you answer their call?


Emig, J. (1982). Inquiry Paradigms and Writing. College Composition and Communication, 33(1), 64–75. https://doi.org/10.2307/357845

Review of Jessica Nastal, Mya Poe, and Christie Toth’s Writing Placement in Two-Year Colleges: The Pursuit of Equity in Postsecondary Education

Reviewed by Megan Friess, Cypress College

Nastal, J., Poe, M., & Toth, C. (Eds.). (2022). Writing placement in two-year Colleges: The pursuit of equity in postsecondary education. The WAC Clearinghouse; University Press of Colorado. https://doi.org/10.37514/PRA-B.2022.1565

What does it mean to be college-ready? Who belongs in the first-year composition classroom versus developmental English courses? Why these students and not others? How is the decision made? And is that decision truly equitable? If not, what can faculty and writing program administrators do about it? Responding to questions like these and to a long-standing call for change in writing assessment and placement practices in higher education, Writing Placement in Two-Year Colleges: The Pursuit of Equity in Postsecondary Education showcases how eleven different community colleges from across the United States have tackled the challenge of reform in both big and small ways.

The authors included in this work acknowledge the harm that traditional writing placement methods have caused, such as chronic underplacement, especially to BIPOC and other marginalized students, and offer a multitude of approaches for implementing more equitable writing placement practices. Where each college is in this process and what the results look like vary, but every chapter in this collection showcases the stories, research, data, and strategies used by faculty members to affect real and lasting change at their colleges.

The book is designed to be read in a couple of different ways, depending on the needs and interests of the reader. Firstly, broken up into three overarching sections (The Long Road of Placement Reform, Innovation and Equity in Placement Reform, and Pandemic-Precipitated Placement Reform) the book presets the case studies and methods used by timespan. The eleven chapters advance from pre-COVID-19-pandemic efforts and methods prompted by internal institutional push for change, to pre-pandemic externally prompted change, and finally to pandemic-driven efforts and speculation for post-pandemic continuances. The case studies range from methods that have been implemented and data recorded and analyzed, to “in the thick of it” changes and efforts, to hopes for lasting change and further efforts to reform and adapt. For alternative ways of reading, the introduction presents charts which inform the reader how to read by specific placement method or by region, accrediting body, and state. These options allow the reader freedom to navigate the eleven chapters and find what would best aid them for their unique position and desires. On the whole, this collection “reminds us that scholars at two-year colleges are at the forefront of advocating for and developing transformative and humanizing writing placement assessments that create more equitable conditions for historically minoritized students at two year colleges” (p. xi).

Diving deeper into the book, section one, The Long Road of Placement Reform, details four two-year colleges’ attempts to reform, create, adapt, and refine writing placement assessments for their students. The first chapter, “No Reform Is an Island: Tracing the Influences and Consequences of Evidence-Based Placement Reform at a Two-Year Predominantly Black Institution,” by Jessica Nastal, Jason Evans, and Jessica Gravely of Prairie State College, looks at over a decade of the college’s history with writing placement. While the school did not use standardized testing as a placement method, the authors point out that “even well-intentioned homegrown placement tools also reproduce the flaws and betray the influences of the larger system” (p. 35). They highlight how reforming the “placement ecosystem” (p. 53) does not happen in a vacuum but requires institutional buy-in and effort on every level. “From ACCUPLACER to Informed Self-Placement at Whatcom Community College: Equitable Placement as an Evolving Practice” by Jeffrey Klausman and Signee Lynch is the second chapter of the work. It surveys the development of Whatcom Community College’s efforts to move from the ACCUPLACER test, which mainly focused on grammar and editing skills, toward an online multiple-measure, directed self-placement process which they call Informed Self-Placement. Chapter three is an article by Kris Messer, Jamey Gallagher, and Elizabeth Hart titled, “A Path to Equity, Agency, and Access: Self-Directed Placement at the Community College of Baltimore County” which presents their reflections on how self-directed placement for students has acted as a “catalyst for a shift in not just [their] pedagogy but [their] curriculum” (p. 100). Rounding out section one, “Welcome/Not Welcome: From Discouragement to Empowerment in the Writing Placement Process at Central Oregon Community College,” by Jane Denison-Furness, Stacey Lee Donohue, Annemarie Hamlin, and Tony Russell highlights how the writing placement assessment is one of the first introductions students have to college and how standardized testing can have harmful effects on the mindset of these students. They document their efforts to reform writing placement practices alongside redesigning course structures and curriculum. Section one presents stories and data to highlight that more equitable reform is possible and acts as a guide for long-term, systemic reform for those looking to start their own efforts or to refine processes already in place.

The second section is titled Innovation and Equity in Placement Reform and showcases four colleges’ responses to various mandates on writing placement reformation to better address issues of equity. The first entry of this section is chapter five, “Narrowing the Divide in Placement at a Hispanic Serving Institution: The Case of Yakima Valley College,” by Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt and Travis Margoni. This case study illustrates how “placement reform plays an important role in the college’s mission as an HSI and serves as a foundation for reforms across campus toward more equitable and antiracist practices” (p. 131). In chapter six, “Putting ACCUPLACER in Its Place: Expanding Evidence in Placement Reform at Jamestown Community College,” Jessica M. Kubiak shows how her college is moving toward a multiple measures assessment, and she considers how non-matriculated students impact the discussion and efforts of writing placement reforms. The case study that makes up chapter seven, “Tracking the Racial Consequences of Placement by Probability: A Case Study at Kingsborough Community College,” highlights the authors’, Annie Del Principe, Lesley Broder, and Lauren Levesque, challenges with using a writing sample as a single method of placement. Instead, they argue that a multiple measures assessment would hold more validity, especially for students of color. Chapter eight’s article, “Mind the (Linguistic) Gap: On ‘Flagging’ ESL Students at Queensborough Community College” by Charissa Che, “demonstrates the need to reconsider the complexities of ‘ESL student’ identities for more equitable writing placement” (p. 191). Altogether, section two provides examples of how to navigate externally mandated reform of writing assessment and placement from a variety of levels, from state to local to institutional policies. 

Finally, the third section, Pandemic-Precipitated Placement Reform, reveals how faculty at various colleges used the pandemic’s effects on schooling to create more equitable and ethical writing placement assessment methods. Faculty of Cuyahoga Community College, Ashlee Brand and Bridget Kriner, start this section off with their article, “Pandemic Placement at Cuyahoga Community College: A Case Study,” which acts as chapter nine. Dealing with the limitations that the pandemic placed on their college’s previous methods of writing assessment, the ACCUPLACER exam and ACT or SAT scores, the authors note how the thrown-together—and originally meant to be temporary—multiple measures assessment has had beneficial impacts not only on the student population but also for the college faculty. In chapter ten, “A Complement to Educational Reform: Directed Self-Placement (DSP) at Cochise College,” Erin Whittig of University of Arizona, Cathy Sander Matthesen of Cochise College, and Denisse Cañez of Cochise College reflect on the use of directed self-placement as the writing placement method over the course of the first eighteen months of the pandemic. During this time, it evolved from an emergency, pandemic-driven measure to a full pilot program. The final chapter of section three, “Community College Online Directed Self-Placement During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Sarah Elizabeth Snyder, Sara Amani, and Kevin Kato of Arizona Western College, relays how pre-pandemic efforts to create a more equitable writing assessment option for the primarily multilingual student body unexpectedly became the main form of placement due to its online modality. After sharing their methodology, the authors also describe the early positive effects this method had on the placement of their students. Despite the pandemic-driven disruptions to the educational landscape being (to some extent) behind us, section three’s stories of quick pivots highlight how unexpected opportunities for positive reform should be grasped, and they provide examples of how these opportunities can be used to create space for equity and justice where it was previously pushed aside.

Writing Placement in Two-Year Colleges: The Pursuit of Equity in Postsecondary Education is a collection of various ways more equitable and just writing assessment and placement practices can be implemented. For those looking to start or further reform at their own two-year institution(s), this book is a great place to start. However, it does not portray these practices in a vacuum. This book calls attention to how writing placement and its effect on both students and faculty are “always part of a broader local assessment ecology that encompasses classroom assessment practices as well as sites like supplemental instruction for accelerated learning, writing centers, exit assessments for course sequences, and assessment practices that involve writing across the curriculum” (24). The work and research being done at two-year colleges is not done in isolation, but instead can inform practices at all educational levels. This book serves as encouragement, a guide, and a call for further change for anyone looking to pursue justice and equity in writing education.

Editor’s Introduction | Winter 2022

Welcome back to the Journal of Writing Assessment’s Reading List!

The JWA Reading List has historically provided reviews of books related to writing assessment in its many forms and locales. Casting a wide net, reviews in the RL have covered texts on K-12 accountability testing, programmatic assessment in college writing programs, the history of writing assessment in the US, classroom writing assessment and alternative grading approaches, social justice in writing assessment, and more. It has also provided a space for graduate students and junior scholars to gain publication experience in a low-stakes, affirmative environment.

Since 2019, the Reading List has remained dormant in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and as our former editorial team, editor Ti Macklin and editorial assistant Skyler Meeks, both stepped back. But with the help of our four new editorial assistants—Kathleen Kryger (University of Arizona), Jennifer Burke Reifman (University of California, Davis), Tiffany Smith (Georgia State University), and Sarah Stetson (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)—we’re very excited to be relaunching this resource and once again reviewing new scholarship in writing assessment.

This relaunch issue focuses on recent texts related to social justice in writing assessment. We offer four reviews as well as a Special Introduction from Megan Von Bergen (University of Tennessee, Knoxville). Our four reviews for this issue include:

As evidenced by the reviews in this issue, going forward the RL will aim to cast an even wider net by exploring not just books, but also recently published journal articles, book chapters, and other forms of scholarship. We will also be releasing bi-yearly “issues” of the RL focused on current themes in writing assessment, much like special issues in our parent journal, JWA.

We are always interested in recruiting new reviewers; you can be added to our list by filling out this form. We’re also always interested in recommendations for new texts in writing assessment to review (self-promotion is welcome!); you can contact us at jwareadinglist@gmail.com.


Stacy Wittstock | Assistant Editor, JWA Reading List | University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Chris Blankenship | Assistant Editor, JWA Reading List | Salt Lake Community College

Special Introduction | Winter 2022

By Megan Von Bergen, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Alternative assessment practices, especially (but not only) labor-based grading and contract grading, consistently tie it to social justice. As recently as 2019, Asao Inoue framed labor-based contract grading as a partial response to ongoing racial violence in the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, interest in alternative forms of classroom assessment skyrocketed, as educators searched for ways to meet these exigencies. This shift is reflected in new publications, among them a special issue in the Journal of Writing Assessment (2020), standalone articles in the WPA Journal (Craig 2020), and briefer posts on FEN Blog. Teachers want to adopt assessment practices that do justice, especially amid injustices.

What we know about alternative assessment practices, however, including their potential for social justice, is limited. Research on labor-based grading remains slim (Cowan 2020), often emerging from the scholar’s own teaching experiences or using unclear definitions of contract grading (Albracht et al 2018). This reality complicates educators’ efforts to connect work on labor-based grading to their local classroom and programmatic contexts, and the particular justice those spaces require. Scholarship has also challenged the assumption that alternative assessment is by nature a just practice. In some cases, scholars emphasize that if labor-based grading is used inappropriately, it can perpetuate racial injustice among teachers as well as students (Craig). In other cases, writers suggest that the focus on racial justice may gloss over other dimensions of identity and social justice, among them disability and neurodiversity (Carillo, reviewed here by Sims). This emerging trend in assessment scholarship invites a closer look at how our assessment theories play out in our classrooms and push us as teacher-scholars towards closer analysis and more nuanced uptake, to ensure our assessment choices meet the desired ends.

Assessment has the potential to be a key driver for equity in our classrooms. Where assessment historically closedthe gates to students deemed undeserving, assessment can open those same gates, creating more opportunities for students to flourish (Poe et al 2016). This is a hopeful and radical vision for writing assessment, but to meet it requires returning to, challenging, and deepening our concept of what justice among our students and fellow teachers requires, along with forging alliances with educators and administrators belonging to historically minoritized groups (Perryman-Clark 2016). This process, of learning about and taking up new methods of assessment in partnership with our colleagues, is a continual, iterative one, benefiting from ongoing engagement with scholarship.

The value of a set of reviews like those included here is to jumpstart that reflection. Reading these reviews invites us as educators, administrators, and/or researchers to ask hard questions of our assessment practices. The reviews also highlight important texts and resources, to nuance and develop our understanding of how assessment may foster – or hinder – justice in the writing classroom.

Reviews included in this collection

“Writing Assessment Literacy,” Deborah Crusan. Reviewed by Madeline Crozier.

Crozier ably situates Crusan’s work within the larger collection in which it appears –– a reference guide to research questions in language and literacy education –– and sums up both the concept of writing assessment literacy and its value for students, teachers, and administrators and supervisors. Crusan defines writing assessment literacy as a framework combining “skills and knowledge” to guide assessment practices and suggests that writing assessment literacy can help reconcile the existing gap between assessment theory and actual teacher training and classroom practice. Crozier concludes her review by summarizing the resources and research questions Crusan forwards, among them the interaction between teaching practice and theories of writing assessment, and highlights Crusan’s call for additional research. Crozier’s review of Crusan’s work is useful for scholars evaluating their own assessment literacy and/or administrators engaged in teacher training and support.

“Communal Justicing: Writing Assessment, Disciplinary Infrastructure, and the Case for Critical Language Awareness,” Gere et al. Reviewed by Cassandra Goff.

As Goff’s review notes, “Communal Justicing” calls Writing Studies to collectively accept the responsibility to be honest about its discriminatory past and work for equity across its policies and publications. Such work hinges on critical language awareness, a term which emphasizes how concepts of “proper” language use are connected to power and the need to challenge these connections in language classrooms and language education policies. Goff focuses their review on Gere et al’s revisions, centering language and language use, to the Framework for Student Success in Postsecondary Writing. Goff also notes the article’s lack of attention to critical language awareness in two-year and community colleges, pointing out that such work may be more robust given that such colleges have more diverse student populations. This article is valuable for those in a position to work with colleagues across institutions, via channels such as the NCTE and CCCC, to sustain disciplinary changes that support a more critical approach to the teaching and assessment of language. 

Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (And What to Do Instead), edited Susan Blum. Reviewed by Michelle Tram Nguyen

Nguyen’s review offers an expansive view of what makes the Ungrading collection compelling: the opportunity to hear from educators, across varied institutional contexts, about how they make ungrading work in their own contexts. As Nguyen describes, practitioners from high school teachers to computer science and chemistry professors contribute to this volume, describing their motivations for ungrading and their choices in adapting it to their classrooms. The wide range of experiences assists practitioners in connecting the text to their own experiences and developing assessment practices that center learning and student autonomy. Nguyen concludes by pointing out that the collection may be relevant for rhetoric and writing instructors looking to develop more equitable forms of assessment. 

The Hidden Inequities of Labor-Based Contract Grading, Ellen Carillo. Reviewed by Mikenna Sims.

Sims provides a thorough summary of Carillo’s key argument: that the dominant focus in labor-based grading research on raciolinguistic equity bypasses other forms of inequity, among them disability and neurodiversity, and that a more intersectional approach to student identity is required. Sims calls attention in particular to Carillo’s observation that labor-based grading takes for granted that labor requires approximately equal amounts of time or effort from students, when in reality varying socioeconomic situations, dis/abilities, and neurodiversity may alter students’ experience with the course and require more or less labor. Carillo argues this approach works against equity in labor-based contract grading, as research does not conclusively show that contracts work towards racial equity, either. Sim’s review, and Carillo’s text, are valuable for teachers and researchers interested in engaging with hard questions about how adoption of even more equitable forms of assessment may work against social justice.


As Inoue reminds us, assessment is ecological, its function(s) in our classrooms and programs shaped by people and places as well as specific practices. There is a great deal of ecological diversity in the reviews collected here: a wide range of assessment practices (Nguyen), a wide range of people, from disabled or neurodiverse students (Sims) to second language teachers (Crozier) and STEM educators (Nyguen); and a wide range of theoretical frames, from assessment literacy (Crozier) to sociolinguistics (Goff) and intersectionality (Sims). Individually, the reviews (and the texts they publicize) help composition instructors and administrators to address specific situations they may encounter in their own institutional landscape. Together, the reviews reinforce that assessment – a practice too often taken for granted as part-and-parcel of writing education – is theoretically and practically complex. To ensure assessment is equitable requires educators to make savvy decisions based on their own commitments, their students’ identities and experiences, and the institutional and geographic places they inhabit. This complexity is underscored in texts that (like Carillo’s) highlight potential injustices in assessment practices framed as socially just. Yet more thorough information about the concepts and practices key to composition assessment can only help our research and practice. If the work of assessment is to open the gates to student learning and opportunity, then these reviews provide a key for those gates, inviting further inquiry into justice and assessment, in our classrooms and across our institutions.

Works Cited

Albracht, L., Harahap, A., Pratt, A., Rodrigo, R., Russell, C. (2019). Response to Joyce Olewski Inman and Rebecca A. Powell’s “In the Absence of Grades: Dissonance and Desire in Course-Contract Classrooms.” College Composition and Communication, 71(1), 145–58.

Blum, S. D. (2020). Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead). West Virginia University Press.

Carillo, E. C. (2021). The hidden inequities in labor-based contract grading. Utah State University Press.

Cowan, M. (2020) A legacy of grading contracts for composition. The Journal of Writing Assessment, 13(2). http://journalofwritingassessment.org/article.php?article=150.

Craig, S. (2021). Your contract grading ain’t it. WPA Journal, 44(3), 145–46.

Gere, A. R., Curzan, A., Hammond, J. W., Hughes, S. Li, R., Moos, A., Smith, K., Van Zanen, K., Wheeler, K. L., and Zanders, C. J. (2021). Communal justicing: Writing assessment, disciplinary infrastructure, and the case for critical language awareness. College Composition and Communication, 72(3), 384-412.

Hennessy, J. (2022). Roll call: Labor logs as an additional method of accounting for classroom attendance. FEN Blog, Composition Studies, ​​https://compstudiesjournal.com/2021/12/13/roll-call-labor-logs-as-an-additional-method-of-accounting-for-classroom-attendance/.

Inoue, A.B. (2015). Antiracist writing assessment ecologies: Teaching and assessing writing for a socially just future. WAC Clearinghouse. https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/books/inoue/ecologies.pdf.

Inoue, A.B. (2019). How do we language so people stop killing each other, or what do we do about white supremacy? Conference on College Composition and Communication, Chicago, IL. Chair’s Address.

Poe, M., Inoue, A.B., Elliot, N. (2018). Introduction: The end of isolation. In M. Poe, A.B. Inoue, N. Elliot (Eds.), Writing assessment, social justice, and the advancement of opportunity (pp. 3–38). WAC Clearinghouse, https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/books/assessment/intro.pdf.

Perryman-Clark, S. M. (2016). Who we are(n’t) assessing: Racializing language and writing assessment in writing program administration. College English, 79(2), 206–11.

Review of Ellen C. Carillo’s The Hidden Inequities in Labor-Based Contract Grading

Reviewed by Mikenna Sims, University of California, Davis

Carillo, E. C. (2021). The hidden inequities in labor-based contract grading. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Ellen C. Carillo’s (2021) The Hidden Inequities in Labor-Based Contract Grading offers a critique of the assessment model put forth by Asao B. Inoue (2019) in Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. Carillo opens her introduction by naming Inoue an “invaluable leader in writing studies,” particularly as the field contends with inequitable grading practices (4). Building on the work of Inoue and others, Carillo offers a disabilities studies lens through which she explores the implications of labor-based contract grading among disabled and neurodivergent students, departing from the raciolinguistic lens that has informed much of the existing work on contract grading. Carillo concludes her introduction with a brief history of contract grading situated in Cowan’s (2020) recent review of the literature.

Carillo opens Chapter 1 by outlining a set of assumptions that underscores labor-based contract grading. Specifically, Carillo posits that labor-based contract grading inaccurately assumes that labor is a neutral measure, and that contracts that attempt to quantify student labor reinforce White, middle-class, normative, ableist, and neurotypical conceptions of labor. That is, time to labor is less available to students in certain socioeconomic classes, and the concepts of time and labor function differently for students with disabilities and who are neurodivergent. Carillo additionally calls attention to the coupling of students’ willingness to labor with their ability to labor, which is a central component of Inoue’s (2019) labor-based contract grading model. Carillo further critiques the model’s assumption in Chapter 2 and considers that while students may be willing to engage in the laboring processes of a writing course, their time and ability to do so may vary considerably. She closes the chapter by arguing that labor-based contract grading merely substitutes one standard of assessment for another, and that the normative, laboring body remains at the center of labor-based grading contracts.

In Chapter 3, Carillo highlights students’ significant and growing experiences with anxiety and depression, exacerbated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carillo contends that labor-based contract grading creates a standard of labor that excludes students experiencing heightened states of anxiety and depression and goes on to problematize the contract negotiation process Inoue (2019) proposes as a way for instructors to invite students to define important terms and labor expectations of a course contract. These negotiation processes, Carillo argues, place the responsibility of disclosing and requesting accommodations on disabled and neurodivergent students, and are reactive instead of proactive.

Students’ intersectional identities are central in Chapter 4, throughout which Carillo considers the ways in which multiply-marginalized students are disadvantaged in labor-based assessment ecologies. Further, she argues that labor-based grading contracts can easily revert to instruments that measure the quality of student writing, and that asking students to put more labor into their coursework is codified language that implies students are producing work that is of subpar quality. Carillo praises Kryger & Zimmerman (2020) for their intentionally intersectional approach to labor-based contract grading. She particularly values their attention to denaturalizing White supremacy, nonnormative conceptions of time and effort, as well as their emphasis on flexibility in assessment. Carillo concludes this chapter by highlighting the importance of conversations such as those put forth by Kryger & Zimmerman to “recognize and include the widest possible range of modes of learning and being” (42).

Throughout Chapter 5, Carillo considers the effectiveness of grading contracts across local assessment ecologies. After providing a brief overview of several recent studies on contract grading, she turns her attention to Inoue’s (2012) “Grading contracts: Assessing their effectiveness on different racial formations,” and Inoue’s (2019) Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. Carillo, upon reexamining the data Inoue provides in these two texts, reasons that the students of color in Inoue’s classes seem to be doing more labor than their White counterparts but are not rewarded for it, suggesting that the philosophy that informs labor-based contract grading may be overestimating the equalizing power of labor and underestimating the importance of intersectionality. Carillo, echoing Cowan (2020), concludes Chapter 5 by issuing a call for large-scale studies that examine the effectiveness of labor-based grading contracts.

Carillo concludes Hidden Inequities by rearticulating that labor-based grading contracts are designed to best serve idealized, able-bodied, and neurotypical students. Carillo proposes engagement-based grading contracts as an alternative method of assessment in which students are offered a broad range of ways to demonstrate engagement in the course. She reasons that engagement-based grading contracts afford students the flexibility and agency of deciding which methods of engagement are most suitable to them at a given time, which works to bridge the gap between student willingness and ability. Carillo additionally suggests that using a translingual lens to assess student writing, and creating individualized student contracts, may better attend to multiply-marginalized and linguistically diverse students. She ends by reminding writing studies scholars that constructing equitable, student-centered assessment methods is a process, and not solely an outcome to be achieved.


Cowan, M. (2020). A legacy of grading contracts for composition. Journal of Writing Assessment, 13(2). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0j28w67h.

Inoue, A. B. (2012). Grading contracts: Assessing their effectiveness on different racial formations. In A.B. Inoue & M. Poe (Eds.), Race and writing assessment (pp. 79-94). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Inoue, A. B. (2019). Labor-based grading contracts: Building equity and inclusion in the compassionate writing classroom. Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse. Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/books/perspectives/labor/.

Kryger, K., & Zimmerman, G.X. (2020). Neurodivergence and intersectionality in labor-based grading contracts. Journal of Writing Assessment, 13(2). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4v65z263.

Review of Communal Justicing: Writing Assessment, Disciplinary Infrastructure, and the Case for Critical Language Awareness

Reviewed by Cassandra Goff, University of Utah

Gere, A. R., Curzan, A., Hammond, J. W., Hughes, S. Li, R., Moos, A., Smith, K., Van Zanen, K., Wheeler, K. L., and Zanders, C. J. (2021). Communal justicing: Writing assessment, disciplinary infrastructure, and the case for critical language awareness. College Composition and Communication, 72(3), 384-412.

In “Communal Justicing: Writing Assessment, Disciplinary Infrastructure, and the Case for Critical Language Awareness” (2021), Gere, Curzan, Hammond, Hughes, Li, Moos, Sith, Zanen, Wheeler, and Zanders show that the work towards critical language awareness and social justice needs continual improvements from the local to the institutional level. Arguing for a more stringent effort towards improvements for justice on an institutional level, the authors remind the Writing Studies field of their community responsibility for critical language awareness and justicing.

Drawing upon Swain’s definition of ‘languaging’, Gere et al. discuss how “justicing implies a process of conscious, iterative, effort that is not achieved all at once, but rather depends upon the choices we continually make” (p. 385). Communal justicing is the ongoing and collective project of working towards justice. In other words, justicing is the action verb while justice is the noun. The authors constantly re-emphasize that the work for critical language awareness and communal justicing is the responsibility of the whole community. Changes to institutional infrastructure cannot occur without everyone working with the same common goal in mind.

Gere et al. identify that students have a key role within the Writing Studies community as well. “By promoting critical language awareness as a matter of policy, we help to ensure that the writing classroom is a space for teachers and students to participate in communal justicing,” (p. 394). Gere et al. imagine all students form a rhetorical understanding of ‘proper’ and ‘incorrect’ written conventions and language varieties to help them inform and change social hierarchies and implications. 

The authors argue that revising key elements of institutional infrastructures is necessary for promoting critical language awareness and communal justicing within the field overall as well as everyday choices and improvement within composition classrooms. “We take the term ‘communal justicing’ to designate something more than local efforts to revise aspects of assessment that contribute to unjust outcomes for students” (p. 387). Individual local change is not sufficient.

Drawing upon previous scholarship by Duffy, Gilyard, Inoue, Wardle, and others, Gere et al. argue for the field’s common vision to be shaped by communal justicing.  Starting by making improvements towards communal justicing within the field’s past policies and publications, scholars and practitioners within the field of Writing Studies must focus on disciplinary memory of language history, policy, and discrimination “Reimagining our guiding documents so that they advance critical language awareness is one such infrastructural intervention – one such means of justicing,” (p. 386). The authors propose significant revision to the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing; a guiding document informs curriculum development for Writing Studies instructors in both college and high-school contexts. The focus of Gere et al. revisions to the Framework document prioritizes language, noting the absence of the word itself from the original publication.

Transparency is a necessity in communal justicing work when creating and revising guiding documents within the field. The Framework was produced in 2011 by a collation of authors from the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), and the National Writing Project (NWP). Gere et al. note the Framework “hides the identity of those who consider and determine what is correct, or appropriate” (p. 396) for the formal rules and information guidelines of writing conventions.

Gere et al. subtly nod towards the need for everyone within the Writing Studies field, not only a few assigned individuals, to prioritize critical language awareness and communal justicing. They mention many of the conversations within NCTE and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) that focus on social justice and critical language awareness “have been initiated and led by antiracist educators of color, as well as interest and advocacy groups…” (p, 389). The necessary choices and continuous work of communal justicing is not the responsibility of people of color alone; it’s the responsibility of the entire Writing Studies community.  

The authors remind those within the Writing Studies field that communal justicing work is not in the past; it is work that must be continuously prioritized now and improved upon in the future. Drawing upon Smitherman, Gere et al. “the purpose of communal justicing is… to make these improvement efforts so habitual within the field that it becomes difficult to imagine disciplinary participation without them,” (p. 402). Their call to those within the Writing Studies field to continually choose to make efforts towards critical language awareness and communal justicing is strengthened when the authors reaffirm knowledge that inaction does not change or challenge the systematic powers and privileges at play.

In referencing NCTE and CCCC primarily within “Communal Justicing: Writing Assessment, Disciplinary Infrastructure, and the Case for Critical Language Awareness”, Gere et al. miss the opportunity to evaluate the Two-Year College English Association’s (TYCA) role towards critical language awareness and communal justicing work within the Writing Studies field. This text leaves room to consider how community colleges are already and continuously working towards communal justicing with, sometimes extremely, varying student populations.

Throughout the various contexts of the Writing Studies field, Gere et al. mention how even though multimodality is becoming increasingly popular within composition classrooms, language-based texts are the standard for assessment ideologies. This juxtaposition calls for the Writing Studies field to evaluate the role of multimodality within the work of communal justicing, especially in relation to assessment.


Committee on Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Language Statement (1974). Students’ right to their own language. Conference on College Composition and Communication, 25(3), 1-32.

Council of Writing Program Administrators (2014). WPA outcomes statement for first-year composition. Version 3.0. http://wpacouncil.org/aws/CWPA/pt/sd/news_article/243055/_PARENT/layout_details/false

Council of Writing Program Administrators (2011). Framework for success in postsecondary writing. National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing Project. http://wpacouncil.org/aws/CWPA/asset_manager/get_file/350201.

Duffy, J. (2019). Provocations of virtue: rhetoric, ethics, and the teaching of writing. Utah State University.

Gilyard, K. (2000) “Literacy, identity, imagination, flight.” Conference on College Composition and Communication, 52(2), 267-272.

Inoue, A. (2015). Antiracist writing assessment ecologies: teaching and assessing writing for a socially just future. WAC Clearinghouse.

National Council of Teachers of English and International Reading Association (2019). Standards for the assessment of reading and writing. https://ncte.org/resources/standards/standards-for-the-assessment-of-reading-and-writing-revised-edition-2009/.

Wardle, E., Adler-Kassner, L., Alexander, J., Elliot, N., Hammond, J.W., Poe, M., Rhodes, J., Womack, A.M. (2019). Recognizing the limits of threshold concept theory. In L. Adler-Kassner and E. Wardle (Eds.), (Re)Considering What We Know: Learning Thresholds in Writing, Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy (pp. 15-35). Utah State University Press.

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-79143-8

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.