Study: Colleges lack comprehensive writing evaluation for students

Professor Mya Poe of Northeaster University presents her research on assessing students' writing in the Philip E. Austin building on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Northeastern University professor Mya Poe shared her most recent findings examining the impact of assessment on students’ writing development and learning Monday afternoon at the Philip E. Austin Building.

Poe, an associate professor of English whose research on writing assessment has been frequently published, is currently working on a book tentatively titled “Intended Consequences: What Students and Statistics Can Tell Us About Writing Assessment.”

After a brief introduction from University of Connecticut English professor Thomas Deans, Poe started her presentation with a bit of history. Harvard introduced the original writing assessment in 1874 as an entrance examination intended to gage incoming students’ proficiency in writing, she said.

“Writing is a complex construct,” Poe said. She observed instructors had developed novel methods for assessing students’ writing skills, but it was unclear what exactly these methods were assessing. 

Poe asked four questions at the beginning of her research, seeking to learn more about students’ histories, personal evaluations, past experiences and changing assessments over a student’s career. 

She used both statistical surveys and personal research to accomplish her research goals. Her surveys found that students of all backgrounds find standardized testing to typically carry more weight than writing assessments in the education system, and also that students consider standardized testing to be more unfair.

Interestingly, grades do not seem to be affected by these students’ thoughts; they remained consistent across both types of assessment.

Poe found that high school assessment strongly informs personal evaluation of one’s own writing skills as they enter college, which concerns her. She implored instructors to work on collegiate placement testing as it relates to writing assessments.

Poe also shared details on three personal interviews with students which provided her with valuable information.

One of the students she spoke to was a Chinese student who did not speak English as a primary language. The student was extremely interested in a psychology major, but technical and linguistic struggles with writing served as a deterrent. As a result, the student chose a business major, for which writing was not as important.

Another one of her interviews was with a student who focused on technology, specifically engineering, but did not know how to integrate his admittedly poor writing skills across subjects. Outside stress, combined with this struggle, caused this student to drop out of school.

Through her research, Poe found writing assessment at the beginning of college is lacking, and students who seek feedback often aren’t getting it. She stressed the importance of creating connections – across schools, across classes, across studies – and integrating writing and its assessment into the curriculum more effectively.

She concluded that assessment has a profound effect on students’ writing development and learning. Therefore, innovation in this area is necessary to better educate students throughout their college careers.


Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets@tylerskeating.