I've been in absentia this weekend just recovering from the first week of classes (a whirlwind as always!), and also working through the proofreading assessment I give to the students right at the beginning of the semester (http://goo.gl/vTukg) - the results are very much as they have been in every semester, with a huge range and pretty regular distribution over that range (see graph below).

At the low end there was a student who actually made no errors at all (that's better than I would have done myself, ha ha) and at the high end a student who had 71 errors. I can't assess it on a scale of percent right/wrong because not only are there errors the students are meant to find, students often introduce errors that were not there to begin with. That is part of what makes it a good assessment, at least in my opinion - there is no single "right" result that the students are expected to turn in (e.g. there are many ways to fix a run-on sentence)... and if I did get identical results from more than one student, that would pretty much have to mean they colluded - there is just no way it could happen naturally. I also change the assessment slightly from semester to semester and, sure enough, two students turned in a response to what was last semester's assessment, presumably because they had friends who took the class last semester and who gave them their old response to turn in. Sad but true. I am waiting for those two students to actually do the assignment and send me their results on Monday.

The students get back from me a customized answer key, responding to the specific mistakes they made, with links to help pages online which contain more detail (http://writingwithaesop.blogspot.com). I also get a good heads-up here about students who are going to need a lot of extra help during the semester with their formal writing assignments. I  am hoping I can make NoRedInk.com part of my intervention strategy this semester; I definitely need some help since, to be honest, our Writing Center is just not very good at providing support for very remedial writing problems.

If I were to mark this as a pass/fail assessment of competency, I would probably set the pass limit at 20 errors (yes, that is just arbitrary on my part; the text is 1000 words long), which would mean 30% of the class would have passed, but 70% would have failed.

I complain a lot about standardized testing, but I have to say that this assessment, time-consuming as it is to mark, is a good one because it really does assess a set of actual writing skills in use. Students can, for example, rewrite a sentence if they are unsure about the punctuation. So, some students, when faced with a split quotation, choose to rewrite the quoted speech so that it is not split - which is fine with me; if a given sentence provokes doubt and they can rewrite the sentence in a correct way that makes them feel confident, that is a great real-life writing strategy.
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