What It Is
In addition to being required by the university (for accreditation and other things), doing assessment gives the Composition Program a chance to understand what it is doing well and what needs work. This is achieved by getting instructors/TAs into a room with samples of student work, talking through what we see in the writing, and what program and classroom changes should be made.

What It Isn’t
Assessment is not about assessing particular teachers, or assigning grades to students based on “group evaluation.” The point is to assess what students are learning – and what they aren’t – and then think about how the program can change to encourage better learning.

The Assessment Meeting
The challenge of assessment in the Composition Program has always been how to get so much writing assessed. Scholars in rhetoric and composition have instead suggested the portfolio “norming” (what we’re calling the “assessment meeting”), where a selected number of teachers bring a selected number of student portfolios, and those portfolios are assessed by all present (and the Director).. This provides an opportunity for outside evaluation by other Program faculty, and equally important, discussion among Program faculty.

Each Spring, an assessment meeting is held, with a focus on a particular outcome from the list. A selected number of instructors and TAs bring a sample of the portfolios from their English 1020 and/or 2030 course(s), and we use the rubric for the specific outcome (below) to evaluate how well students are doing. We talk about whether the outcome and rubric seem appropriate, and we pass around the student samples and evaluate them with the rubric (more quickly than you would grade your own students’ papers). Then we look at the scores from everyone, and talk about what we see and where we can improve. The Director of Composition writes up a report explaining the conversation and future goals.

The assessment meeting is complemented by a less formal online assessment in the Fall (via survey monkey). This self-reported, online data is considered less valuable than the data from the assessment meeting.

Who Participates
Each year, there are different instructors and TAs who participate, based on a rotating schedule and availability. While a large-scale assessment meeting with all teachers (and all portfolios) may seem desirable, it’s typically overwhelming and chaotic. Plus, because the assessment takes the good part of a day, those who participate are paid, and we couldn’t afford to pay everyone.

The Director, and the two QUE instructors, would be required to participate each year, plus two additional instructors and 4-6 TAs. Each instructor would bring portfolios from two classes, and ultimately, fourteen 1020 and 2030 classes would be assessed each Spring, or roughly 30% of the courses for that semester.


What to Bring
  • Bring four students portfolios (if you are bringing portfolios for two classes, bring four from each course).
  • Select a range of portfolios in terms of quality. Don’t bring all stellar ones or ones you feel unsure about. (That said, the A-F range need not be completely represented.)
  • Remove student names from portfolios. If you are using photocopies, black-out the names. If you want to bring the original portfolios, place post-its over the names. If it is the original portfolio, place a post-it on the front of the portfolio that says ORIGINAL so nobody writes on it during the meeting.
  • You can grade the portfolios first if you would like. Most teachers prefer to do this and then see how others’ rankings compare (though no grades are assigned in the assessment meeting – portfolios are only ranked according to the three categories on the rubric). The assessment of your colleagues should not replace your grading – you know more about what is going on in your course with your students.
  • Place copies of your writing assignments/handouts in each portfolio, preferably before the student writing that responds to that assignment. These can simply be tucked in, especially if the portfolios are bound in some way.
  • Make sure it is clear on the portfolio whether it is a 1020 or 2030 course.
  • Remove your name from the portfolio if you wish to remain anonymous as the materials are reviewed.

What to Expect
9-9:30a Introductions, organization of materials.

9:30-10 Discussion among the faculty of the outcome to be assessed during the meeting, as well as the rubric. Discussion of how the outcome might manifest in student writing.

10-12p Evaluation of student portfolios. Each portfolio is examined by two faculty members, and in cases where the evaluations differ (especially between “meeting” and “not meeting” expectations), there is a third evaluation.

12-12:30p lunch/break

12:30-1:30p Discussion of student portfolios. What issues were seen? (Director will present initial “tallies” of the various categories.) How can these issues be addressed by teachers, by administration, etc.? What problems occurred in the assessment process itself?