The first three pages of my Master's thesis draft were covered with penciled comments from my committee director, Ed White. At the end page three, he drew a line and said simply, "I stopped reading here. See me." Ed was a tough reader to please, fair and challenging. He showed me where my writing was confused and confusing and listened as I tried to talk through my ideas. I struggled mightily with that thesis, trying to make some sense of cognitive processes for reading and writing. Ed had in mind a type of writing that mine fell far short of with its fragments, misspellings, awkward phrasings, and run on sentences. A key founder of holistic assessment measures of student writing in college entrance exams, his responses were well-informed and well-intentioned. Under his leadership, I had helped read blue book applications of thousands of students applying to enter California State University, San Bernadino. I saw how students' form impacted deeply their placement into various tracks of preparatory writing classes. That draft of my thesis was only a little better than those entrance exams. I had to wonder if I'd ever make it through. But I had made it that far. And my acceptance into a few PhD programs kept me motivated to finish the job and get Ed reading past page three.
Writing assessment matters. It matters in the classroom, in entrance exams, and in standardized tests. All potentially impact writing development. How we give these kinds of feedback to learners and what they do with it, or feel enabled and compelled to do with it, are matters of equity. Just how so, for whom, and with what stakes are questions hotly debated in the media and scholarship. Few know this better than Mya Poe, the guest editor of 48.3, a special issue of RTE featuring international perspectives on diversity and writing assessment. Mya's research in this area includes the important book Race and Writing Assessment (with Asao Inoue). The issue includes an all star line up.
It features international scholars from across language and writing communities keenly interested in the effects a range of assessments have on diverse learners. David H. Slomp, Julie A. Corrigan, and Tamiko Sugimoto lead the issue with their article that "provides researchers, test developers, and test users with a clearer, more systematic approach to examining the effects of assessment on diverse populations of students." Mary Ryan and Georgina Barton's article details the teaching of writing in Australian elementary schools to reveal how diverse students create powerful identities for themselves in writing when given a space to do so. Asking how teachers define failure in students' writing, Asao Inoue explores "the nature and production of failure in writing classrooms and programs." Liz Hamp-Lyons widens the lens again to the global context:
"English tests have great value. Everywhere in the world, English proficiency is one of the essential keys to unlock the door of educational opportunity and all that promises for an individual’s future. The assessment of writing is, then, socially and politically significant not only within a country’s internal struggles for opportunity for all through quality education, but also between nations."
Global-scale tests in English proficiency, assessing writing at the university level, and every act of responding to writing in classrooms and third spaces impact diverse students especially. Together, these can perpetuate social inequities or help realize global equity. This issue offers paths of possibility to move us further along this continuum toward more equity for diverse learners. Hope remains strong.
Models of change, change agents, teaching, learning, expressive tools, and everyday struggles for dignity, resources, respect, and cultural perseverance.