Pulling Your Hair Out: Crises of Standardization in Communal Writing Assessment

  • Broad B
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Instructors and administrators in the portfolio program at City University urgently desired to standardize their evaluations of students' writing—to make their judgments quick, easy, and homogeneous. Because they refused to compromise the rhetorical and pedagogical integrity of their decisions, however, participants in this study found that evaluative ambiguity and conflict stubbornly remained. Though extremely frustrating for the writing faculty involved, the evaluative crises they experienced set the stage for a radical reconceptualization of the process of standardization. In fact, their struggles delivered communal writing assessment to the doorstep of hermeneutic standardization, a paradigm that can accommodate both of writing assessment's historically antagonistic commitments: to fairness and consistency as well as to the diversity, complexity, and context-dependence that are characteristic of rhetorical experience. Using qualitative methods to analyze observation- and interview-based data as well as written documents, I explore how City University's writing instructors grappled with their crises of standardization. Participants experienced multiple breakdowns in the project of standardization, of which this article details the two most severe: crises of textual representation and crises of evaluative subjectivity. I conclude by examining conflicting interpretations—psychometric and hermeneutic—of City University's crises. In advocating the second interpretation, I argue that viewing City University's struggles through a hermeneutic lens can lead to revised understandings and practices that allow teachers of composition to honor more fully their theoretical, pedagogical, and ethical commitments when judging students' writing. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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  • SGR: 2542619729
  • PUI: 31665091
  • SCOPUS: 2-s2.0-2542619729
  • ISSN: 0034527X


  • Bob Broad

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