Assessment is a critical element in most successful WAC programs. Assessment can focus on the operation of the program, its effectiveness in support university goals related to faculty professional development and curriculum improvements, its contributions to improvement in student writing performance, and its use of institutional funds to accomplish program goals. In general, and as is the case in most good research projects, assessments that rely on multiple methods of collecting and analyzing information tend to be more successful. Both qualitative and quantitative methods can provide useful insights into the effectiveness of a WAC program.
Student writing is highly situated, varying greatly according to instructor goals, course and program goals, and disciplinary genres and activity systems. Assessments of student writing are likewise situated and varied according to the goals and reasons for the assessment. As a result, no one rubric or standardized test can effectively measure students’ writing competence and/or writing development in college.
Stakeholders—including faculty who use writing in their courses, faculty in the major, and/or program administrators—should play a key role in any assessments of student writers and writing. The specific role played by stakeholders will vary depending on the goal of the assessment and their role(s) in relation to those goals. In all cases, the writing being assessed and the methods of assessment should be aligned with assignment and course goals, programmatic goals, and goals for students as writers in the discipline, across the curriculum, and in professions they are being prepared to enter.
While calls for accountability at the institutional, state, and national level may drive writing assessment, the central and overarching goal of all good assessment is to enhance student learning in the course, the major, and the college curriculum. As those most responsible for teaching and developing courses and curriculum, faculty have the biggest stake in designing and implementing writing assessments that will not only demonstrate students have achieved the writing goals for the course and the program but that will also lead to improvements in students’ learning experiences around writing.
Assessment of student writing can take place at several levels.
- At the course level, good writing assessment attends to specific, situated, and articulated assignment and course learning goals for students.
- At the program level, such as during a program review, good writing assessment can help to establish greater coherence among the learning and writing goals and outcomes for students across the curriculum of the major.
- At the institutional level, programmatic writing goals and outcomes can be aligned with more general goals for student writers, such as those articulated in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (http://wpacouncil.org/files/framework-for-success-postsecondarywriting.pdf), to develop an institution-wide outcomes-based writing assessment plan, one that is not based on static notions of form and correctness but that accounts for the full rhetorical, discursive, knowledge-making complexity of the writing being assessed.
Methods for programmatic writing assessment can include the following:
- Program portfolios: Portfolios provide a longitudinal view of a student’s trajectory as a writer over the course of a program. Typically, electronic portfolios provide students with space to collect samples of writing over time and write reflectively about their own learning and development, while providing faculty and administrators with a showcase of student work and learning. Portfolios may be created for different contexts: e.g., for individual courses, a departmental major, or a student’s entire academic program. Faculty in the program should be involved in portfolio assessment, with results leading to course changes and enhancements around the ways that writing is taught and assigned and course and curricular outcomes for writing and learning.
- Embedded, discipline-based writing assessment: The goal of embedded writing assessment, by whatever process is employed, is to engage faculty and program directors in discussion about their rhetorical values and goals for student writers. In this method, faculty from the same department are brought together to discuss and assess a randomly selected sample of student papers written in response to the same or similar assignments. The papers may be assessed through a holistic procedure wherein the faculty compare papers to develop a scoring rubric and to calibrate their subsequent assessments. Through conversations about student writing in context, faculty may also engage in a dynamic criteria mapping process (see Broad et al., 2009).
- Student surveys and focus groups: These tools are powerful for learning about students’ changing perceptions of themselves as writers and perceptions of their experiences with writing. For a national survey on student writing, see the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). NSSE allows institutions to add questions about writing that address institutional learning and writing goals.
- Faculty surveys and focus groups: These tools can be used to assess faculty’s changing perceptions, understanding, and valuing of student writing, as well as methods used across campus for assigning and mentoring writing. The Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) also allows institutions to add individual questions around faculty goals for and perceptions of student writing.
Once goals, objectives, and a locus for assessment have been determined, programs can draw on data from a combination of any of the writing assessment measures described above to assess their own effectiveness and programmatic reach. Other methods may include engaging faculty in conversations around student writing outcomes to develop assignments and assessment procedures that can then be combined across programs, and/or conducting case studies, surveys, and interviews to investigate questions around improving, enhancing, and sustaining the program.
Note: Much of the information presented here has been adapted, with permission, from the Statement of WAC Principles and Practices.