By Corey Taylor (MA 2016, SWLF)
2013 was the first year in which the percentage of graduating Hispanic students going to a four-year-degree institution surpassed the percentage of white students doing the same, according to Pew Research’s Hispanic Trends Project. Approximately 7% of Oregon State University’s current student population is Hispanic, making it one of the largest non-white ethnic groups at the University. This number is small compared to the dramatic shifts going on in Oregon’s public schools. Currently Hispanic students face two large hurdles among many when it comes to the equitable assessment of their writing: an assessment culture that is increasingly focused on standardization, in addition to the reduction of the Hispanic writer to a simplistic“L2” linguistic identity that does not account for the ethnolinguistic diversity found in Hispanic communities.
One of the largest issues facing minority students today across academia is the push for standardization—a movement that can quickly change from the desire for equitable assessment for everyone, to assessing everyone the same way without accounting for ethnolinguistic and other differences. Throughout writing courses in all disciplines, standardization comes in the form of Rubrics and Grading Guides. Rubrics can often become barriers for minority students because of what scholar Valerie Balester calls “Acculturationalist” and “Accommodationist” rubric types.
Acculturationalist rubrics are those that “aim for ‘standard’ English, posited as a stable and singular entity” with the goal to “eradicate ‘substandard English” (66). In the examples provided below, the Accultrationalist rubric sample is almost confrontational in its prose. Run-ons and comma splices must be absolutely eradicated, and diction must be excellent. For any writer not completely comfortable with their lignustic ability, this barrage is intimdating at best, and stifling at worst.
Accommodationist rubrics, on the other hand, are those which still focus on the same standards as acculturationalist rubrics, but are written in a way as to seem non-confrontational, so that “students must accommodate school language usually through code-switching” (Balester 67). In the example, the Accomidationist rubric is written on implications. What exactly is a “sophisticated form of expression,” or a “compositional risk?” For basic readers, this type of rubric is simply hard to translate, and for a basic writer it is confusing.
Balester suggests that writing instructors move to a third model of rubric that she calls “multicultural rubrics.” She defines these rubrics as those that encourage “writerly agency that privileges meaning-making through rhetorically based choices” (72). In other words, rubrics can use terms like “sophisticated forms of expression,” or “compositional risks” but the instructor should, either in front of the class or in the rubric/assignment prompt itself, address the ways in which these terms are defined within the context of the assignment. The example below encourages “editing” and “superior control of grammar” rather than “mechanics” and “eliminating errors,” keeping the expectations relative but specific enough for effective assessment. For instructors of writing in the disciplines, these multicultural rubrics also present the opportunity to explain why certain genres, styles and conventions are privileged/used in their discourse communities. This is not only helpful for minority writers, but novice writers in general.
Another danger in assessing minority students is the tendency to focus solely on their linguistic identities rather than using a multifaceted ethnolinguistic perspective. This can be problematic for Hispanic students in particular because of how linguistically diverse Hispanic students are. There are over 20 different nations under the “Hispanic” umbrella. Most Hispanic cultures speak Spanish. However, many also speak various creole dialects, as well regional and local Spanish dialects. These dialects are then brought to the United States, and often merge with English. The assumption that Hispanic basic writers must also be ESL learners is prevalent, and as Professor Betriz Mendez-Newman of Texas Pan American University states, “implies the student is relying predictably and consciously on competence in an established first language to achieve competence in a second language” (23). Mendez Newman points out that most multilingual Hispanic writers have “primarily oral confidence” in Spanish and have learned written English in school, describing them as “minimally bilingual” and often more proficient in written English than they are in written Spanish (24).
Low-stakes writing tasks are an easy way for writing instructors to engage with students’ writing before final assessments, providing the instructor with knowledge of the student’s language proficiency, writing history and even some insight into common errors. The added bonus is that short assignments take less time to grade, and can often be done in class with minimal mark-up required. Writing About Writing activities – such journals where students can write about current or past writing experiences, surveys such as Oregon State’s own Writer’s Personal Profile, or Process Memos–where students write about their drafting process on a paper before turning it in–also allow the instructor to better tailor their assessment and feedback on written work.
Acculturationalist: Mechanics: Sentence structure, grammar, and diction excellent; correct use of punctuation and citation style; minimal to no spelling errors; absolutely no run-on sentences or comma splices.
Accommodationist: When the writer attempts to communicate complex ideas through sophisticated forms of expression, he/she may make minor errors as a result of these compositional risks. These types of errors do not detract from the overall fluency of the composition.
Multicultural: An “A” paper displays evidence of careful editing with superior control of grammar and mechanics appropriate to the assignment.
Balester, Valerie. “How Rubrics Fail: Toward a Multicultural Model.” Race and Writing Assessment. Ed. Asao B. Inoue and Mya Poe. New York: P. Lang, 2012. Print.
Fry, Richard, and Paul Taylor. “Hispanic High School Graduates Pass Whites in Rate of College Enrollment.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
Kells, Michelle Hall. “Linguistic Contact Zones in the College Writing Classroom: An Examination of Ethnolinguistic Identity and Language Attitudes.” Written Communication 19.1 (2002): 5–43. Print
Mendez Newman, Beatrice. “Teaching at a Hispanic Serving Institution.” Teaching Writing with Latino/a Students: Lessons Learnedat Hispanic- Serving Institutions. Ed. Cristina Kirklighter, Diana Cárdenas, and Susan Wolff Murphy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007. Print.