Announcing New Writing Quick Assessments
We are excited to introduce new Writing Quick Assessments in Goalbook Pathways. This is the first comprehensive writing content release that we have delivered to Pathways. It includes Quick Assessments that address argumentative/opinion, informational, narrative, and literary/nonfiction analysis standards so that teachers have assessments that support a robust writing instructional plan.
Our content writers have ensured that these new resources are aligned to the standards, are focused on rigorous writing skills, and include engaging prompts and passages. Writing Quick Assessments can be used as pre- and post-assessments but teachers have the flexibility to use them as homework assignments, guided practice, independent practice, and so many other applications. Every Writing Quick Assessment includes a rubric and an answer key with a model student essay so that teachers can lay the foundation for the criteria for success and take instructional action that prioritizes specific writing skills.
3 Bad Habits That Sap the Rigor Out of Writing Instruction
Writing instruction is challenging because writing is not a singular skill — it is the complex interplay of various cognitive and technical processes. In general, teachers devote significantly less instructional time to writing as compared to the other core subjects. We simply aren’t doing justice to writing instruction; the outcome is that students will have a hard time advancing academically and professionally, not because they lack knowledge but because their written communication skills are underdeveloped. Academic writing is so much more than using correct grammar and syntax while communicating answers, and if teachers are going to bring their writing instruction to the next level, they have to avoid these three common habits:
1. Avoiding writing instruction
- All too often, student writing is treated as little more than a means to the end of answering questions. There is nothing inherently wrong with writing answers to questions; in fact, there are many benefits to having students practice writing in this way. However, the problem emerges when teachers aren’t engaging in some form of exchange of feedback about the writing itself. When there is no discussion about any element of the writing, students are unaware of their present levels and even less of how they should improve.
2. Practicing more of the same
- It has been said that “practice makes perfect”; unfortunately, this idiom has been interpreted as “repetition equals improvement.” Oftentimes, well-intentioned teachers will assign more writing with the notion that if students write more frequently, they are bound to improve. Sadly, the converse is true: the more you practice the same bad habits, the more you reinforce them. Writing instruction has to be intentional, and practice should only occur if students are aware of the habit they are trying to improve.
3. Teaching low-level skills out of context
- Teaching grammar skills is a very important element of writing instruction; it becomes a problem when it is the only form of writing instruction delivered. Error analysis is only important for one dimension of writing — revision. What precedes the revision process is the actual writing where students are expected to process information and articulate complex and fully formed ideas in writing. The bulk of a teacher’s time should be spent on teaching the complex writing skills that allow students to communicate clearly and effectively.
3 Ways Pathways’ NEW Writing Quick Assessments Help Teachers Deliver High Quality Writing Instruction
If teachers want to engage in rigorous writing instruction, then they must be cognizant of all the elements that comprise great writing.
The elements of great writing require students to…
- … create coherent and organized written products.
- … incorporate relevant evidence to support valid claims.
- … effectively elaborate in order to explain, justify, describe, interpret, define, synthesize, etc.
- … integrate and employ relevant reading skills in their writing process.
Our Writing Quick Assessments reflect the complexity of this new understanding of academic writing by including complex text-dependent questions. Additionally, each Quick Assessment is designed to guide students through a writing task that requires them to construct outputs that allow them to showcase specific writing skills and not simply engage in grammatical error analysis. Here are three ways our new Writing Quick Assessments help teachers avoid the bad habits that come with writing instruction:
1. Prioritize skill-based writing instruction
- Students will work on tasks that address specific skills: topic sentences, transition words & phrases, supporting evidence, word choice, sequencing & point of view, and concluding statements.
2. Scaffolded practice to reach higher levels of complexity
- Our Writing Quick Assessments gradually increase in complexity. Students first read a short, engaging passage and then answer 5 questions: two DOK 1s, two DOK 2s, and one DOK 3. The DOK 3 item requires students to engage in the genre of writing aligned to the standard, but we’ve deliberately made sure not to create items that require a lot of time to assess. The value of a Quick Assessment is that students can complete the pre-assessment in as little as 45 minutes, and teachers can score each one in under a few minutes.
3. Target specific writing skills with purposeful application
- Often, students’ writing levels are incongruous with their reading levels because of the disproportionate amount of attention given to reading. This means that a student may need to fill in the gaps in the writing skills missed in prior school years. Our new Writing Quick Assessments are available from grades 3–12, and they assess all of the genres within the standards: argumentative/opinion, informational, narrative, and literary/nonfiction analysis. This means teachers can pull Quick Assessments from any grade level to support their students. Additionally, the topics students write about are relevant to their lives so the skills they are practicing are developed in an authentic context.
Real and compelling writing topics present the opportunity for students to add their unique voice in class.
Writing prompts should be explicit, authentic, engaging, and set the stage for the writing task.
Robert C. Calfee PhD & Roxanne Greitz Miller EdD
In today’s diverse society, writing is more than just a means of communication — it’s a gateway to success. Student success at the college level, in the modern workplace, and as members of a participatory society is contingent upon the ability to engage in the exchange of complex ideas. Writing is a way for students to contribute to the collective knowledge in their classroom communities. It is for this reason that our content writers intentionally chose reading passages and constructed writing prompts that are relevant to the socio-developmental levels of the students.
Here are some examples of writing prompts that can be found on the assessments:
Grade 3: In the article, the author explains why animals are in trouble. In your opinion, how can humans save endangered animals? Write one paragraph that states your clear opinion. Your paragraph should have a topic sentence and one piece of textual evidence to support your opinion.
Grade 5: Your teacher has asked you to write your opinion about the existence of aliens. You will take a side as to whether you believe in aliens, or whether you do not believe in aliens. You will need to use the texts as resources for facts and evidence to support your opinion.
Grade 8: Do you think college athletes should be paid for their performance? Read the two articles and determine your own argument. Then, write 2 paragraphs that state your claim while and addressing the other arguments about this topic. Use evidence from the texts to support your claim.
Grade 12: The authors of both articles believe strongly in the underdog effect. However, their viewpoints suggest that each of them understands the phenomenon differently based on their experiences and research. Write a short argumentative essay that explains their contrasting views about why we root for the underdog.
The most effective writing assessments require students to communicate with authenticity and conviction. Our hope is that teachers leverage the writing prompts and reading passages in the new Writing Quick Assessments to deepen learning, broaden discourse, and empower student voice.
Calfee, R. C., & Miller, R. G. (2007). Best practices in writing assessment. In S. Graham, C. MacArthur & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Best practices in writing instruction (pp. 265–286). New York: Guilford Press.