Selecting Writing Development Assessments for Students

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education

Teachers need to use assessments in order to design writing instruction to meet all students' needs. This lesson describes writing assessments and shows how to design a writing assessment for students of all grade and ability levels.

Assessing Writing

Assessments are a necessary part of education. Teachers use them to determine student understanding of concepts, design and develop curriculum, and determine future teaching goals and objectives. Assessments used to guide teachers in student learning and not for grades are called formative assessments. These are used on a continual basis to see what students are learning so modifications can be made. Examples include observations, class conversations, and tests or quizzes not used for grading purposes.

Assessments used for grades to determine final understanding are called summative assessments. These are typically more formal, like a test, or take the form of a project or portfolio. Developing and designing assessments is necessary for all subject areas. Writing assessments can often be difficult, however. Often, teachers lose focus on grammar or spelling and not on the mechanics and craft of writing. What is included in writing assessments? Let's take a look.

Aspects of Writing Assessments

Kelly is a writing teacher who uses writing assessments often in her classroom. She uses formative assessments before and throughout teaching and looks closely at the final writing product to determine growth. She does this on a whole class, small group, and individual basis. For example, at the beginning of a new unit on persuasive writing, she gave an assessment called a flash draft. Students were asked to create a persuasive paper in a specified amount of time. Kelly knew her students didn't know much about persuasive writing; she used the flash drafts to determine what they did and didn't already know.

During the writing process, Kelly checks in often with her students to make sure they are developing and applying skills. When she teaches about how to pose an argument, she needs to make sure all students are using the technique. She'll meet with small groups and individual students to read their drafts. Finally, after weeks of instruction and publishing a final draft, she uses a scoring guide, a tool with a predetermined set of criteria she uses to determine understanding of skills.

When assessing writing, Kelly focuses on the process, product, and purpose.

Writing Assessments - Process

The best way to determine the strategies students use when writing is to observe and assess them during the process of writing, or as they create writing.

Kelly can see:

  • how students organize their thinking before writing
  • strategies students use to spell
  • methods students apply for planning
  • self-editing strategies
  • what steps of the writing process are followed

Let's imagine Kelly zooms in on Michael, a student she noticed is struggling as a writer. To first determine his specific strengths and struggles, Kelly begins closely observing him during the process of writing. She may notice he hasn't yet developed strategies to get started on his writing and is unable to organize his thoughts. She can design lessons to help Michael learn this important skill. If intensive scaffolding doesn't work, she may determine he needs an intervention or a closer look at why he struggles.

Writing Assessments - Product

After students have gone through the writing process and published a piece, Kelly then assesses their writing product. Some teachers spend too much time and energy focused on visible aspects, like spelling or grammar, when other aspects are important as well. To fully assess the product, she looks at five things:

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