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Pilot Assessment Program:
GCC English Department

Karen Schwalm, GCC
The purpose of the English Department Pilot Assessment Program is to improve instruction in English 101 by helping faculty articulate to each other (and by extension, to students) what they mean by good writing.

The assessment program is based on the premises that one of the evaluative tasks of writing teachers is to make distinctions about student writing and that good writing can be distinguished from bad writing (frequently with a high degree of agreement among colleagues). While colleagues can legitimately disagree about the features of good writing, they ought to recognize and be able to explain these disagreements clearly to each other (and by extension, to students).

In a program that requires sequential courses, especially when these courses are taught by many different people, students benefit if teachers can demonstrate that their evaluation of writing is based on identifiable standards and is applied consistently.

The program is formative rather than summative: the assessment of student writing achievement is directed back to the individual instructor -- quickly and concretely -- so that instructional change can occur. This program takes what are normally considered barriers and turns them into opportunities.

Program Structure

The assessment program consists of two parts: first, a meeting at the beginning of the semester, attended by all English faculty, and second, designated assessment activities undertaken during the semester by English 101 instructors. The assessment meeting that opens each semester provides an opportunity for all faculty (including those who do not generally teach English 101 but teach courses that feed into, parallel, or follow English 101) to evaluate writing generated in English 101 at the end of the previous semester, to share instructional strategies, and to formulate objectives for the coming semester. This activity helps the department identify its standards and apply them more consistently throughout the program. A typical assessment meeting includes small-group sessions applying the scoring criteria to specific essays, holistic scoring activities, problem-solving discussions focusing on specific instructional strategies, and less-structured sessions on more general classroom practices.

The second part of the assessment program requires faculty teaching English 101 to participate in one of four options for assessing student writing in their classes that semester (a common final exam, a common assignment, a portfolio, or an independent option), and to report the results of that assessment (either individually or as a group) at the following semester's assessment meeting. Instructors teach multiple sections of English 101 may elect more than one assessment option; they have been encouraged to try different options from semester to semester.

Assessment Options

Common Final Exam Instructors electing the common final exam participate in the selection of a final essay topic. Students are provided with informative packets which include background on the topic, directions for getting started, four mode-specific prompts, and selected readings.

Common Assignment Instructors choosing the common assignment work in small groups to design an assignment that they think measures student writing achievement at the end of the course. They also agree on a grading procedure and criteria. Finished essays are exchanged so instructors do not evaluate their own classes. Student grades are affected to the degree determined by each group.

Portfolios Instructors participating in the portfolio process ask their students to submit two essays to be ready by other participating instructors. These essays must be "rewrites" of required papers, reflecting teacher comment and student revision. Both essays must be judged B- or better by the readers for the student to receive a final grade of "A" or "B." (Not that completion of the process does not guarantee a grade if the student has not also earned it on the teacher's grading scale.)

Individual Option The individual option allows instructors to devise assessment measures to evaluated their own students' semester progress. While they work individually, they must report their results to the department.

Option Reports Oral option reports are presented, individually or collectively, at every assessment day. Written reports are collected, compiled, and kept in the conference room for use by other English instructors.

For additional information about the Pilot Assessment Program, contact Karen Schwalm (, Betty Hufford (, or Carol Sunshine ( at GCC.

Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction (MCLI)
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