Writing Assessment Across the Curriculum

Introduction

The past decade has witnessed significant transformations in the multilingual and multicultural educational contexts of the Arabian Gulf. The number of schools at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels where English is a primary language of instruction has increased dramatically. Coinciding with this growth of courses taught in English has also been a diversification of the curriculum. Gulf students no longer have to study abroad in order to study computer science or aeronautical engineering. This growth in the diversity of degrees offered to individuals for whom English is an additional or second language raises significant issues for the field of language testing and assessment because it means that assessment of language competency can not necessarily be separated out from assessment of content learning.

Once upon a time the term English language testing aptly summarized this field since the majority of instruments, research, and publications related narrowly to English as a second or foreign language. The primary object being assessed at that time was knowledge of the language: its syntactic and phonological patterns, lexis, and generic discourse structures. The field’s focus was on measuring what students knew, frequently for the purpose of placing them into an appropriate level of English language instruction. With many secondary and postsecondary institutions around the world today adopting an approach to literacy instruction known as writing across the curriculum (WAC), however, English language specialists can no longer separate what they do from the assessment carried out by the faculty in degree programs.

This paper offers suggestions for conducting assessment in contexts where literacy and content instruction are coupled and in particular how to deal with the need to establish shared principles and procedures among language, writing, and content area specialists. Following a more detailed explanation of the goals and types of writing across the curriculum programs, five strategies for using assessment to promote student development and learning are discussed.

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