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Below is the email message the Departmental Assessment Coordinator sent to the ENGLISH-L list on 1 March 2012:

Hi, folks. Paul and I have chatted about What to Assess Next. Since we don’t have general education assessment mandates this year, we have a chance to do something different.

Paul suggested that we focus in greater detail on one piece of our literary interpretation rubric, namely, this part:

- understand individual works, genres, and literary movements in relation to history and society

This outcome addresses a new requirement in the revised English major, and applying the outcome to this year’s assessment would allow us to create a “baseline” that we could measure against a few years from now.

So…unless you want to suggest  another aspect of our major that we need to assess more urgently, perhaps we could go with this. What we would do, then, would be to expand this outcome into its own rubric. I’ll be putting together a rubric for your viewing pleasure, but first I would like to solicit input from everyone in the department. What does it mean to “understand” works/genres/literary movements? What do “history” and “society” mean for us? Or should we use a term such as “culture”? And what statements of outcomes could we use that would apply to a typical set of papers from both an “early” course (170, 142, 213) or a later course (i.e., 310 or 358?)

I’d like to have your thoughts about this (think about it, for instance, when you’re on that SUNY-subsidized cruise to Belize over spring break) between now and the end of March. And, really, it would be great to get a wide range of suggestions and even a conversation about it, one that I would hope would reach a rough consensus by Tuesday, 27 March. You can share your comments and ideas at the following address on the wiki:

By Tuesday, 2 April, I’ll post a rubric which you can comment on for the next few days, and then I should have the rubric ready to go by the following week.

 I will also need to ask for several volunteers who would be willing to apply this rubric to one of your later papers this semester — either a final assignment or a final exam. It doesn't take long to apply the rubric — we're talking about maybe 30-45 SECONDS per assignment. But the aggregate data can help us to observe trends.

We really didn’t have a good-sized sample last spring, just a few classes (including one of mine). So it would be good to have at least three volunteers from 100- and 200-level courses and three or four from 300-level courses. If you know in general that you have an assignment that will require students to put certain works into an historical/social/cultural context, I would invite you and cajole you and encourage you (and maybe visit you in your dreams) to join in.

As we should continually remind ourselves

— assessment is a requirement; we need to have these reports on file for Middle States accreditation

— assessment is the responsibility of everyone; the same volunteers over and over could give us a fairly odd axis of outcomes that might not represent what we are doing

--assessment can form part of studying and improving what we are doing in our major

I hope to hear from you (and I will send reminders) very soon!



Your Very Own Assessment Coordinator

9 April 2012: AND NOW: The draft of the rubric, with some initial comments:

The draft version of the “Literature in Historical and Social Context Rubric” appears below. This is substantially Paul’s construction, along with some suggestions for revised language arising from department members’ discussion on the wiki.

Note that I have changed some aspects of Level 4 and Level 3 traits to try to capture what Paul was emphasizing about the centrality of historical/social context in a student’s essay. I was also trying to avoid the word “competent” on Level 4 because of its use on Level 3; thus I have suggested “makes a skillful and intellectually complex case for its thesis” in place of “makes a competent case for its thesis.”

I also want to acknowledge the comment Maria brought up about production of interpretation and the clarification of a student’s ideological position. This is an important comment, but as I’m seeing it right now, this is an issue that may play a significant role in the student’s self-reflection (and how we end up evaluating/assessing it).  So we should revisit that question. Right now, I think what we’re trying to do is to get an initial handle on students’ awareness of/use of history and social context, whatever the subject position and ideological stance a student’s writing may have.

At any rate, please have a look at this rubric over the next few days. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I will then publish the rubric on the wiki on Monday the 16th.



4 - Excellent

Essay proposes an interpretation of a text that puts the text in relation to some relevant aspect of history or society as a substantial element of an argument, or uses the text as evidence to illuminate some aspect of history or society, and makes a skillful and intellectually complex case for its thesis in a way that draws on evidence from both within and around (i.e., historical and social facts) the text.

3 - Satisfying

Essay demonstrates a competent attempt to interpret the text in relation to historical or social facts, or shows a somewhat nuanced understanding of how texts reflect or shape historical or social realities.

2 - Approaching

Essay refers accurately to historical or social facts in the course of interpreting a text, or competently makes a point about history or society using a text as evidence.

1 - Not Approaching

Essay makes no accurate reference, or no reference at all, to historical or social facts.