Saturday, October 30, 2004

On Teaching/Assessing Timed Writing

A few posts back clc raised the vexed issue of timed writing for discussion. By suggesting how it invites formulaic expression from most and often handicaps ESL students, she concludes rightly that it may be less helpful than exit portfolios for accurate writing assessment. She's wise to question how well such writing fits our teaching, as we know mostly from helping disparate students with drafting in the real world.

But come next March that world may start affecting us all somewhat more than it does now. For students taking the new SAT will have to write a new, twenty-five-minute essay for college entrance or placement. The requirement may even affect transfers — a prospect putting timed writing, I think, directly on our agenda.

Although I can't begin to describe the new test (you can perhaps read about it at The College Board or Time), I can add a bit about essay scoring. A while back Jocalo addressed that work in his SAT, Multiple Choice Tests and Writing Assessment. Like him I've had years of experience in scoring essays, first for the ECT (English Composition Test) and then the SAT II, and over the years in doing so I've come to regard scoring as at least usefully predictive. I know senior colleges do, since upper-end marks are the best general indicators of college success. Having given my own students such tests, I know they can rise to the challenge, particularly with careful coaching.

Partly to aid such work, I have thought to link the current SAT II scoring guide and sample essays from the College Board. How the new SAT guide will look I don't know, but it will probably be similar. Beyond grammatical correctness, the key is mostly substantive development, marking the truth of E. B. White's dictum: "Facts have an eloquence all their own."


At 7:52 PM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

What bothers me the most about the new SAT is that students have only 25 minutes to write. Seems like that is putting too much pressure on an already stressful test. Forty-five minutes, an hour, maybe, be what they'll get is first-draft writing--or formulaic writing by students who have been trained to write a certain way to pass the test.

At 8:32 PM, Blogger jocalo said...

This has to do with production values. ETS has lots and lots of research that shows a 25-minute writing sample will generate enough material to apply the scoring rubric. A longer time would mean longer papers would mean more scorers would mean higher labor costs. While SAT II is kind of the Cadillac of readings, almost leisurely compared to TWE or GMAT, I imagine this SAT essay will be the biggest reading program ETS has ever undertaken. They will use their best readers early, develop computer scoring models based on those readers, and then try to shift to the GMAT model where only one live reader assesses the paper. This test was not created to improve the teaching of writing (though ETS claims this strongly through the College Board-created National Commission on Writing), but to keep SAT in business when it appeared the University of California was going to dump it. I'm convinced this test will simply reinforce the worst teaching practices related to writing in our high schools.

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