Date of Award

Spring 5-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Ben Rafoth, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Lilia Savova, Ph.D.


This study contributed to teaching and learning based writing assessment literature (Huot, 2002) by beginning the process of crafting a validity argument for writing placement at Cardinal College, a pseudonym for a small, private college in the suburbs of a mid-sized, Mid-Atlantic city, which uses Smith’s (1992/2009, 1993) expert reader model to place students into one of two reading and writing integrated courses. The study specified the program’s interpretive argument (Kane, 2006) and investigated one key assumption of that argument—that readers place students according to course-related criteria—by conducting interviews and think-aloud protocol sessions (Ericsson & Simon, 1984) with placement readers and course teachers while they read student work, by administering a placement adequacy survey to teachers, and by examining course documents and final grades.

The study found that Cardinal College’s placement readers use teaching specific criteria to determine a student’s position on a continuum of ability linking reading and writing, presenting a pedagogically useful view of students for the program. However, because of a change to the curriculum, with the loss of a mid-level course between the remaining courses, the study found that (a) the course designations and understandings from the lost course, particularly on reading, influence placement decisions more than the expert-reader model; (b) higher course teachers are not in agreement on the importance or work of assessing students’ reading; (c) yet, lower course teachers are strongly aligned and knowledgeable about troublesome reading issues.

It was the conclusion of this study that Cardinal College’s writing program must formally address the lost course by having teachers share different views of the student population and strategies for addressing reading issues to redevelop its courses to meet all students’ needs. Further, placement reading must be modified so that different course readers wait to place worrisome students and instead have conversations with each other, making the decision in concert using the expertise of all. In addition to the value to Cardinal College, the study has value to other writing programs at small liberal arts colleges, those with reading and writing integrated curriculum, and those undergoing curricular change or experiencing course misalignment.