This is the first of two posts about how teachers and scholars might get involved with new assessments like those developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
There is a standing question in composition scholarship about how educators can shape externally imposed writing assessments. One view urges educators to say what they want, not what they don’t want (Adler-Kassner and Harrington “Responsibility” 86; Adler-Kassner and O’Neill Reframing 108). From this perspective, we are better off reframing existing calls for reform rather than critiquing them. Another view, represented by scholars like Chris Gallagher, concludes that educators’ capacity to shape reform’s assessment efforts are limited by a “stakeholder theory of power” (“Being” 458-69)—the belief that corporate and political reformers are going to take professional perspectives on literacy as equal to their own. From this perspective, we are better off remaking rather than attempting to join the existing reform scene.
The current situation offers us an opportunity to think about these arguments. SBAC is currently developing formative assessments for writing k-12, and it has invited educators to get involved. As I’ll show below, SBAC emphasizes writing, and its formative assessments promise to help teachers shape their writing instruction to make it more effective—that is, more clearly reflective of SBAC’s assessments. One question we can ask now is how teachers of writing might approach SBAC’s formative assessments as they stand. This inquiry, in turn, should offer some insight into the disciplinary conversation summarized above.
SBAC’s call for teacher collaboration and contribution is complicated in Nevada. At the national level, SBAC claims teacher participation is central:
To extend this collaboration, SBAC suggests, teachers can use their Digital Library on Formative Assessment whichincludes “a series of assessment literacy and instructional modules in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.” Intrigued, I tried to read these modules butthe links provided are not yet live. (By the next post, the Library should be available.)
This context, in which work is happening off-stage but educators have little opportunity to participate, resembles what Gallagher calls the neoliberal assessment scene (458). That is, educators are being displaced from their professional standing as those with expertise to define the goals and measures of public education in literacy. What, then, can educators do when the potential for their collaboration in reform appears to be limited? In the next post, I’ll describe what kinds of inquiry are possible in this context.
Adler-Kassner, Linda, and Peggy O’Neill. Reframing Writing Assessment to Improve Teaching and Learning. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2010. Print.
———. “Responsibility and Composition’s Future in the Twenty-first Century: Reframing ‘Accountability.’” College Composition and Communication 62.1 (2010): 73-99. Print.
Gallagher, Chris W. “Being There: (Re)Making the Assessment Scene.” College Composition and Communication 62.3 (2011): 450-76. Print.