Teachers and administrators from Argument-Centered Education partner schools have made an important request over the past couple of years: since we cannot expect students to learn the difficult skills of academic argumentation all at once, how can these skills be taught and built in sequence?
This is an argument-centered writing assessment designed to develop students’ critical thinking and writing skills, in an in-class and on-demand setting. Both because of the college-directed rigor of the preparatory work that students will be immersed in, and because of the conditions under which students will be writing, this assessment is also highly aligned with the new SAT exam, so it is an authentic, properly embedded and seamless part of an instructional strategy that has raising students’ college exam scores as one of its objectives. And finally it is document-based, so it parallels the kind of AP Exam writing that many students will be striving to master.
Issue: The United States should significantly restrict immigration from the Middle Eastern due to the possibility of terrorism.
By Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
[Adapted from a talk presented at a session on “Standardization and Democratization in College Writing Programs” at the NCTE Conference on College Composition and Communication, April 7, 2016, in Houston Texas.]
After a rocky start, higher education has come to embrace outcomes assessment. When Gerald was President of MLA in 2008 he caught a lot of flak for a pro-assessment column in the MLA Newsletter entitled “Assessment Changes Everything.” Now, eight years later, the outrage has largely dissipated. As Chris Gallagher suggests in a 2012 College English article, “OA now seems like educational common sense. Define goals for student learning, evaluate how well students are achieving those goals, and use the results to improve the academic experience. Who could argue with that?” Gallagher does go on to argue with Outcomes Assessment, citing some dangers that he sees in it. But he accepts the need for outcomes assessment in principle, as do most of us.
Beatrice exceeds her [cousin] as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December.
— Much Ado About Nothing, I.i.185-187
Shakespeare was more than a little in love with the month of May, in Much Ado and elsewhere. Teachers, not so much — despite the narrowing chasm that the month portends to summer and its mostly more relaxed rhythms. The reason for teachers’ coolness toward the “Rose of May” (Hamlet, IV.5.133) can be named in a single word: assessment. May is testing season, and with that comes a flurry of misgivings, about misuse, overuse, curricular de-railment, unwarranted and discouraging final verdicts.
Many schools have recently completed their semester-ending final exams. Teachers I was working with yesterday, for instance, told me that they were done with 85% of their essay grading from finals. They reported feeling both a kind of relief that they could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and a surge of motivation to finish, get their grades in, and feel that sense of accomplishment at having fully completed the semester.
This focus on the end of the semester got us thinking about posting on a couple of recent examples of argument-based assessments that we at Argument-Centered Education have developed with our school partners this year. What follows are two samples of assessment tools that have been used recently in our partners’ argument-centered classrooms. These tools can be used or adapted as is – they have been implemented successfully and are ready for wider use – but they can also be taken as models of the ways that argument-based instruction can connect to, generate, and be back-designed from argument-based assessments.