English Journal, vol. 99, issue 3 (Jan 2010), pp. 42-49.
Some "English Journal" ("EJ") readers may fondly (or not so fondly) remember reading lists for college-bound students, which were once routinely distributed to promote the reading of "The Scarlet Letter," "Pride and Prejudice," "The Pearl," and other noteworthy classics. Today, virtually any English teacher would recognize that a focus on solely canonical texts was the greatest flaw of these lists; however, another important consideration exists: How did the authors know that college professors expected students to have read these books? Were faculty polled to learn if the reading lists mattered and why? Were focus group interviews conducted of students who had and had not read these books? Did an analysis of syllabi or assignments demonstrate a prevalence of these books in university classes? In short, what "assessment" confirmed the value of reading lists for college-bound students? Because of the current testing craze across the country, the authors use the A-word, "assessment," cautiously; however, "assessment" need not be an inherently negative word. As evidence, "EJ" readers should consider the writing assessment currently taking place across the country on university campuses. Unlike state-mandated tests, university assessment tends to be designed, implemented, and interpreted by local faculty and administrators for local purposes, such as to more accurately describe and analyze curricular programs, to enhance teaching, and to improve student learning--all honorable objectives. Most importantly here for "EJ" readers, university assessment initiatives have the potential to provide highly relevant information to English teachers, especially those working with college-bound students. To substantiate this claim, the authors share results and classroom implications from their assessment of faculty perceptions about writing at a regional, Midwestern campus of 20,000 students, many of whom are first-generation college students. Additionally, the authors offer assessment strategies to help "EJ" readers respond to anecdotal claims and state assessment results in their own schools.