Monday, January 26, 2004


The State Department of Education is inviting applications to be a rater for the Statewide Writing Assessment in 2004. The scoring site and all scoring sessions will be held at ESU#3 in Omaha.

Dates for when this rating of student writing will take place: Grade 4: March 18-20; Grade 8: March 25-27; Grade 11: April 1-3.

If the process is anything like what is going on elsewhere in the country, you might be hearing GIANT SCRUBBING SOUNDS soon thereafter. It seems that today's world of statewide tests, publication of scores, attachment of merit pay to student scores, and confused scrutiny by the general public of these highly subjective ''assessments'' is leading to more and more C-H-E-A-T-I-N-G.

Not by the kids. By the educators.

It's just another reason we should scrap the statewide writing assessment process as being 'way too expensive and 'way too open to tweaking and subjectivity. What we have created doesn't help students become better writers; it cheats students and parents out of the excellence in writing development that our hard-earned tax dollars are supposed to be providing. Instead, the writing assessment is wide open to bureaucratic manipulation. It has become a game.

Here's why: the more subjective the type of assessment, the more wiggle room there is for subjective grading. When you are grading a piece of student writing, the scoring is extremely subjective in comparison to other kinds of tests. In addition, the results are not anywhere near as accurate and meaningful as what the general public expects in the way of a true measure of how well the kids are writing.

You can tell that's true by the fact that most Nebraska high-school kids score well on the statewide writing assessment but their college professors are up in arms over how lousy they write. Check it out. I've scored student writing, I've taught college-level writing, and I know. Hoo boy.

It seems the process goes like this: two different people ''rate'' the student's work. Their scores are averaged.

You'd think that'd be it; that'd be the score. But nooooo.

After the first go-round, those assessments that are just a few points below passing are set aside. Then they are gone over again. This is when the S-C-R-U-B-B-I-N-G (a.k.a. C-H-E-A-T-I-N-G) takes place. Educators go back over those and ''find'' more points. Voila! The student ''passes.''

I can't prove it's going on in Nebraska. But educators in other states have admitted that it's going on.

Scrub-a-dub-dub, eh? I'd say we need to throw this writing assessment boondoggle out with the bath water – and give those educators and bureaucrats who foisted this on us a business bath.

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