The official website of educator & arts patron Jack C Richards

Assessing Writing Skills

Question:

Submitted by Naima SAHLI from Algeria

How can a teacher assess learners’ writing skills?

Dr Richards responds:

Hughes (2003: 83) suggests that assessing writing involves three issues:
1. Writing tasks should be set that are properly representative of the range of tasks we would expect students to be able to perform.
2. The tasks should elicit writing that is truly representative of the students’ writing ability.
3. The samples of writing can be appropriately scored.

Many different writing tasks can be used to elicit examples of students’ writing ability. The length of text that students produce should be specified. For example:

• Writing a letter.
• Writing a description of something from a diagram or picture.
• Writing a summary of text.
• Writing on a topic to a specified length in words or paragraphs.
• Completing a partially written text.
• Writing a paragraph using a given topic sentence.
• Completing a paragraph.
• Writing a criticism or a response to a piece of writing.
• Writing a story, based on an outline provided.

Hughes emphasizes that a valid writing test should test only writing ability and not other skills, such as reading skills or creative ability. A test that contains a variety of writing tasks gives a more representative picture of a student’s writing ability than one that contains only one writing task. The most difficult part of producing a writing test, however, is developing the scoring procedures that will be used with the test. Many tests make use of an analytic scoring procedure; that is, a score is given for different aspects of a piece of writing, such as grammar, content and organization. Other tests make use of a holistic scoring method, where a single score is assigned to writing samples, based on an overall impressionistic assessment of the student’s performance on the test. Electronic support for scoring is also available with automated essay scoring (see https://criterion.ets.org and http://myaccess.com; last accessed 9 April 2013).

Portfolio assessment
Many writing teachers make use of portfolios for the assessment of student writing. A portfolio is a collection of students’ writing, assembled over time. It usually contains examples of the students’ best work and provides a collection of writing samples, rather than a single piece of work. It may also include a written reflection by the student on his or her progress in writing, as well as a self-assessment of his or her strengths and weaknesses in writing. The portfolio is used as the basis for a final grade.

Reference. Hughes. A. 2003. Testing for Language teachers.2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.