|Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)|
Introduction to the Writing Assessment Rater Training
About the CoWA
The CoWA, the writing component of the Minnesota Language Proficiency Assessments (MLPA) battery of assessments, was developed for the purpose of certifying the second language proficiency of secondary and post-secondary students. It is a test of written proficiency at the Intermediate-Low and Mid levels of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and an efficient choice in situations where it is necessary to establish that the writer's performance meets a minimal criterion, such as for fulfilling a graduation requirement or as a criterion for placement in postsecondary intermediate level course sequences.
The CoWA consists of five scored tasks. The tasks target functions, topics and discourse within situations appropriate to the Intermediate-Low and Intermediate-Mid levels identified by the ACTFL Guidelines. All tasks in the CoWA are preceded by an optional brainstorming, warm-up activity to provide test takers an opportunity to organize and focus their responses.
Test takers respond to the five tasks of the Intermediate-Low level CoWA with a minimum of seven sentences for each task, while students taking the Intermediate-Mid level are asked to respond with at least eight sentences. Each writing assessment takes 50 minutes to administer and is rated on a pass/fail basis using a holistic rubric.
In responding to the five CoWA tasks, learners are asked to demonstrate that they can:
Criteria for the rubric used to rate the CoWA are derived from the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (1986) for Intermediate writers. The Guidelines had not yet been revised at the time the CoWA was developed and the Minnesota Articulation Project (MNAP) prepared evaluation criteria for the assessment.
Able to meet limited practical writing needs. Can write short messages, postcards, and take down simple notes, such as telephone messages. Can create statements or questions within the scope of limited language experience. Material produced consists of recombinations of learned vocabulary and structures into simple sentences on very familiar topics.
Source: ACTFL Writing Guidelines, 1986.
Members of the MNAP also felt strongly that if students were to perform the functions of the Intermediate-Low level (describe self, order a meal, make purchases, etc.) in a manner comprehensible to a sympathetic interlocutor and to succeed in second year language courses at a post-secondary level, they must posses the ability to correctly use present tense of common verbs most of the time.
At the Intermediate-Mid level, MNAP members felt that the use of past tense of commonly used verbs was an appropriate expectation.
CoWA rating criteria are in the form of a holistic rubric which asks raters to make judgments by forming an overall
In a holistic rubric, all aspects of a performance are equally considered during evaluation.impression of a performance. The rubric is an attempt to simplify the rating process so that many students’ performances can be evaluated in a reasonable amount of time. Nonetheless, rating is difficult and time-consuming even when the decision to be made is reduced to whether or not a learner’s performance is at least at the Intermediate-Low level.
In holistic evaluation, raters make judgments by forming an overall impression of an entire performance and matching it to the best fit from among the descriptions for several criteria (e.g., range of vocabulary + grammatical accuracy + fluency) on a scale of generally four to six levels.
Because the CoWA targets the Intermediate-Low level on the ACTFL Proficiency Scale, the holistic rubric for rating the CoWA consists of one level and five criteria.
For more on holistic evaluation, please see: Virtual Assessment Center
Learners adopt different approaches to taking a test of this type. One difficulty in rating their performance is that within a given level, a range of performance will be observed.
Some learners proceed very carefully and only use structures they know how to say and write correctly. The quantity of writing they produce tends to be limited, and so does the quantity of error.
Other learners respond very creatively to the tasks and exceed the amount of writing expected. They may also make many errors.
The challenge for raters is to make judgments based on what they read in the language samples. Ideally, more than one rater would evaluate the tests, and raters could discuss and compare test takers’ performances and their understanding of the criteria. Frequent consultations with other evaluators, as well as referral to the criteria, can help avoid “rater drift.” When raters drift from the criteria, they rely on their intuition or compare learners to each other.
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