I can't sleep. It may have something to do with regular insomnia. Or it may have to do with the banging coming from over the neighbor's way (sounds like a door banging in the wind, maybe?). Or whatever.
One of the things that struck me today listening to the assessment head talk was that there's a crucial piece missing.
The assessment guy's been collecting data for X number of years, and has found that our students don't write as well as we think they should.
The assessment guy has also realized that the method of assessment is rather flawed, so he went around and asked people on campus if they thought that despite the flaws, our students don't write as well as we think they should. And, yes, pretty much everyone on campus says that our students don't write as well as we think they should.
Now, assessment guy wants to say two things: 1) We need a better method of assessment because the last one isn't well designed. 2) The data from the last one is actually valid enough that I should keep my job despite the fact that I designed the flawed methodology. But we can't actually use the data because I need to collect more for another X number of years.
I'd like to fire the assessment guy (which means he'd go back to teaching, not go on unemployment), but as we in higher ed know, administrators can never be fired for incompetency or actually expected to accomplish what's promised.
Let's accept, for the moment, that the interpretation of the data, though imperfect, is broadly right: our students don't write as well as they should.
The next question is why?
Is the faculty incompetent?
Is the faculty basically competent, but doing something wrong which could be changed for the better?
Are there other factors which aren't helping students write well?
Because the way assessment works, we measure students' work at the end, their "outcomes," and then decide if we're doing an acceptable job or not. And since it's the school's responsibility to to the job, and as far as writing's concerned, it's the faculty's responsibility to foster good writing, then something needs to happen with the faculty.
There are difficulties with this approach, of course, since education isn't just something that faculty do to students. But the school can't control what students do, so measuring what students do doesn't make sense for assessment. (This is like blaming plastic widget makers for imperfections in the plastic widgets they turn out without recognizing that the plastic going in--over which the widget makers have no control--is of poor quality or messed up with extraneous stuff.)
Assessment doesn't tell us about how what we do could be different, or how what we do is different (or not) from what our peer institutions do. Assessment just measures outcomes.
Ah, but we should all do best practices! Except, on an institutional level, we know we aren't, at least when it comes to class size.
As far as what faculty do in their classrooms? We're all doing process work, the sort of work that composition specialists tell us helps students learn to write better. We all teach using brainstorming techniques, drafting, draft revisions, etc.
How do we do better? I don't know. One thing I do know is that when I have students do brainstorming or drafting in my upper level classes, they tell me they usually just write one draft and turn it in. So something's not "taking" between their first year writing course and whatever other writing they do in college.