As he writes in his widely referenced article An Apologia for the Timed Impromptu Essay Test, the scoring of timed essays provides significant cost savings relative to the labor- intensive evaluation of portfolios, allowing institutions that would otherwise employ even less writing a timed essay expensive multiple- choice assessments. He also remarks on the utility of timed in-class writing in preventing plagiarism and in helping students to focus on the task of composition (34-36). Importantly, in response to concerns about a lack of opportunities for revision, White asserts that, even though an impromptu essay test may encourage first- draft writing, a first draft still constitutes a form of writing: thus the use of timed writing rather than multiple-choice tests. Extending this reasoning further, Marie Lederman argues that, despite the rightful focus on revision and the writing process in the curriculum, only the final product of that process holds any significance or communicative potential for the reader, lending legitimacy to the product-oriented nature of timed.A second major line of thought in favor of timed essay tests, separate from the pragmatic and conceptual arguments surveyed above, relates to their empirical capacity to predict the future academic performance of students. College Board researchers claim that, of all the components of the SAT, the writing section most accurately predicts students grade point average in the first year of college, demonstrating its validity as an assessment instrument (Kobrin. A crucial point of weakness in this argument, however, is the idea that a strong correlation between scores and later academic success in isolation can show the validity of a given assessment.For as Rexford Brown insisted as early as 1978, in the course of his opposition to objective writing tests, the fact that parental income and education might also correlate with writing ability and predict performance in college does not mean that they should form the. Validity requires that an assessment measures what it is intended to measure, so the question remains whether timed writing examinations truly reflect writing ability. . In order to explore this issue in greater detail, one can turn to the material gathered in interviews with Brenda Rinard, a member of the University Writing Program at UC Davis, and postdoctoral fellows Roland Hsu, Barbara Clayton, Patricia Slatin, and Jeffrey Schwegman, all teaching.Though all interviewees had experience with timed essay tests in their respective courses, it is a limitation of this study that the four participating ihum fellows, unlike. Rinard, were seeking to evaluate student examinations not explicitly in terms of writing quality but rather in terms of content.
As Kathleen Yancey discusses in an article on the history of writing assessment, in the period between 19, the evaluation of writing was frequently conducted through objective, multiple-choice tests on grammar and vocabulary (485). In the 1970s, trends in standardized writing assessment gradually shifted to the holistically scored essay test, and by the 1980s and 1990s, many universities had again changed their evaluation methods to adopt broader, multi-element writing portfolios for such purposes as assigning course placement (Yancey 487-94).Yancey observes that homework help with excel spreadsheets beneath these fluctuations were evolving views on the relative importance of reliability and validity, the two central concepts of psychometric theory. Reliability is associated with objective assessments, while validity is associated with direct tests of writing skill that provide samples of actual writing (487-94). An assessment is reliable to the extent that it yields consistent scores across readers and test administrations, while it is valid insofar as it successfully measures the particular characteristic, in this case writing ability, that it purports to measure (Yancey 487; Moss 6). Current scholarship opposing the use of timed writing assessment continues to voice the same concerns about the validity of essay tests originally raised by those advocating the introduction of portfolios.For example, in her 1991 paper encouraging the further spread of the newly developed portfolio assessment method, Sarah Freedman argues that timed essay examinations involve unnatural writing conditions, with students producing work that has no function except for external evaluation, on topics that may not. Similarly, as Ann Del Principe and Jeanine Graziano-King contend in their 2008 article, the testing environment created by timed writing assessment undermines the authenticity of essay examinations because it inhibits the complex processes of thinking and articulation that enable students to produce quality writing (297-98). Of course, many more specific arguments can be adduced under the general heading of authenticity in assessments.For Kathy Albertson and Mary Marwitz, the dangers of high- stakes standardized writing examinations are dramatically exemplified by students who seek security in uninspired, formulaic essays and students who unknowingly imperil their prospects of reader approval by engaging with challenging topics through more sophisticated pieces. Finally, in an inversion of the usual call for more valid assessment techniques, Peter Cooper reprises the common contention that a single writing sample on a particular topic cannot fully represent a students abilities, only to present this consideration as evidence in support of multiple-choice. In defense of timed writing assessment, noted composition theorist Edward White invokes the historical attractions of objective tests of writing, which remain in use in a large proportion of colleges (32).
Throughout the American education system, the assessment of writing skill and general academic performance through timed essay examinations has become increasingly pervasive, contributing to the determination of grades and course placements and ultimately affecting college admissions through their use in standardized tests. In March 2005, the College Board introduced a new writing section for the SAT that incorporates a 25-minute impromptu essay component, as well as traditional multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage (Hass; SAT Test Sections).Likewise, timed writing assessment holds a prominent position in the ACT, which features an optional 30-minute history research paper writing essay section that is mandatory for students applying to some institutions, and in the College Boards Advanced Placement program, whose English Literature examination requires three essays written over. As Nancy Hass reports in the. New York Times, the introduction of timed writing in the SAT has generated substantial public controversy, with many colleges deciding not to consider the essay scores in the admissions process.At the same time, a number of universities have elected to utilize the essay section results, not only for admissions, but also for the determination of placement in composition courses, sometimes provoking passionate opposition from their own writing faculty members (Isaacs and Molloy 518-20). Employing the SAT essay section as an illustration of the debate surrounding timed essay examinations, this paper seeks to investigate the accuracy, instructional usefulness, and social implications of the widespread use of timed writing assessment as a measure of writing ability at the high school. To supplement a review of the published literature, this study integrates material from interviews conducted by the author with five experienced instructors in composition and literature programs at Stanford University and the University of California (UC Davis.Both in standardized examinations and in the classroom setting, timed writing assessment can offer a rough and imprecise, but most often fairly accurate, prediction of a students performance on longer, traditional writing assignments. Nevertheless, as this paper will attempt to demonstrate, the imposition of severe time constraints induces an altogether different mode of writing, called an assessment genre by one of the instructors, that renders questionable the comparability of the writing skills displayed in timed and untimed contexts. Given this finding, teachers and institutional administrators should carefully consider the potentially objectionable social values and attitudes toward writing communicated by the choice of timed writing as an assessment technique, especially when used to identify excellence rather than to certify basic competence. In recent decades, the accuracy and appropriateness of timed writing assessment as a measure of writing ability have been subject to progressively rising doubts from English instructors and scholars of composition.
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