Date of Award

12-2007

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Brian Huot, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jean Nienkamp, Ph.D.

Abstract

While literacy educators in the field of composition studies have traditionally approached the issue of writing assessment from a classroom perspective that emphasized assessment’s role in the processes of teaching and learning, recent trends in American public policy have made data gathered from educational assessment the basis for arguments of education policy reform. In particular, during the past 15 years, a loose affiliation of advocacy groups known as the P-16 movement has sought to use educational assessment data in arguments promoting greater coordination and collaboration between all levels of American public education, from pre-school (“P”) through college graduation (grade “16”). Based on these circumstances, this study raises two main research questions: 1) What happens to educational assessment data when it enters the public sphere of education policy reform debates? and 2) How can literacy educators in the field of composition studies constructively participate in contemporary education policy reform debates around issues of pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment? In response to these questions, this study makes two main arguments. Addressing the first question, the study argues that when educational assessment data circulates in the public sphere, it enters what I term, drawing upon the theories of rhetorician Lloyd Bitzer (1968; 1980), the rhetorical situations of college writing assessment. Rather than neutral,objective descriptions of the learning process, assessment data now functions as a means of persuasion through which advocacy groups can define problems, or exigencies, with current educational practices that then justify their specific reform proposals. Following Bitzer’s model, the rhetorical situations of college writing assessment also include the audiences of policymakers and administrators who have the political and institutional authority to enact large-scale policy reform within American higher education. Finally, this model considers the rhetorical constraints that guide how such audiences interpret assessment data and deliberate on matters of education policy reform. In response to the second question, this study argues that literacy educators should use the proposed model as a heuristic through which to plan discourse that strategically participates in education policy debates such as those of P-16 reform.

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