The Assessment of Writing



How do we best assess a student's attainments in writing? What feedback can we most helpfully give the 25 juniors and seniors in Jill Cowburn's journalism class who have squarely addressed the challenge of profiling the 25 community leaders, innovators and artists they selected in last November's draft?

We're aiming to answer those questions with the framework developed by Paul Zachos and Monica De Tuya of the Association for the Cooperative Advancement of Science and Education (ACASE). We're directing their framework toward mining the information that we'll find most helpful in evaluating the progress our student writers are making.


We've given our students a demanding assignment. We're not just asking them to turn in a homework assignment. We're asking them to write an 800-word profile of a community leader, innovator or artist. Their task is to synthesize into a coherent, impactful story all of the background they've found on their subjects on the web plus all of the information they've extracted from their subject via a written interview and a face-to-face interview which may be conducted in person, via Zoom, or by phone.

We've taken them step-by-step through this process, including the creation of a "Discovery Draft" into which they place all of the content they've collected and use as their palettes as they write their stories. We're taking them all the way to publication on Saratoga Today's web site, sharing their drafts with their subjects, and fine-tuning their stories.

Up to this point, we've done no formal evaluation. That now changes as we focus on two milestones in the student's sculpting of his or her piece:

The First Draft, which the student will submit to Ms. Cowburn for review, assessment, and editing;

  • The Final Draft, which the student will produce after receiving the subject's comments on the story and responses to any additional questions the student may wish to pose.


In reviewing these drafts, we'll assess their levels of attainment using the following criteria:

  • Concision

  • Use of the active voice with powerful verbs

  • A well-crafted and attention-grabbing "hook" that draws the reader in

  • A sequencing of ideas that's appropriate to the story

  • Smooth transitions that carry the reader from thought-to-thought

  • Persistence in revising

We came to these after considering 20 broad areas of capabilities we want to develop in students. We asked ourselves: What are the concepts, skills, and dispositions that are so critical for the students’ current and future learning -- so fundamentally linked to other capabilities in other disciplines -- that they're worth our closely evaluating and giving students' feedback on? These six key indicators of word craft nail it, we think.

As students complete their First Drafts and Ms. Cowburn applies her edits, we'll share them with the students' subjects and get their feedback and edits. With these changes made, we'll share these Final Drafts with our friends at Saratoga Today. If the story meets their standard of quality, we'll publish the story on their web site with a photo not only of the subject but also of the student with a short bio. And we'll congratulate the student on a job well done.