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As a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, standardized testing has become the most widely-warranted method of evaluating the academic abilities of students across the United States. In most cases, state-level legislation dictates requirements for standardized testing criteria, including but not limited to the ways in which tests are evaluated, how results are broken down into divisions of academic ability, and finally, assess how standardized testing scores can be applied in order to allocate funds to districts and individual schools. Instruction for these assessments has become a make-or-break skill in schools that depend on standardized tests for more funding (Graham).

How Writing is Evaluated by Standardized TestingEdit

Essay SectionsEdit

In composition studies, especially in elementary and secondary schools, standardized testing has become an essential part of the curriculum. State legislatures have developed comprehensive methods of evaluating student composition that is written for standardized tests. For example, in the state of Connecticut, writing abilities are based on a two part Writing Across the Disciplines evaluation. The first part is in essay form, the second is a more standardized form pertaining to Editing and Revising. In the first part, students are evaluated on the following criteria when they are asked to write a short essay regarding some current issue:

(according to CAPT testing interprative guide 2012)

  • taking a clear position on the issue
  • using information from the two sources provided
  • supporting the position with accurate and relevant information from the source materials
  • organizing ideas logically and effectively
  • expressing ideas in his or her own words with clarity and fluidity


In this specific case, essays are read by two independent readers on a six-point scale. Because of the time constraints on the test, essays are graded each as a first draft, rather than a final polished piece. It is understood that the 5 dimensions listed above can be represented in a first draft.

Editing and Revision SectionsEdit

Also in Connecticut's case, a separate section is dedicated to evaluating the ability of students to edit student work. After reading three sample student passages, students are asked questions regarding errors in:

  • organization
  • word choice
  • syntax
  • grammar (capitalization, punctuation, usage, and spelling)

How Standarized Testing Skills are Taught for CompositionEdit

Teaching for standardized tests has become a crucial but controversial practice, especially in Secondary schools where students are supposed to be preparing for writing challenges in their future (in college, in jobs, etc.) If students are able to develop strong persuasive writing skills that can be applied across all disciplines, they will be able to reflect those skills when being evaluated by standardized tests. However, teaching these skills specifically to the test has become a popular method that often involves eliminating any other kind of instruction, limiting the overall scope of student writing within secondary academics.

The Five-Paragraph EssayEdit

In most cases, instructors adopt the method of the Five-paragraph essay when helping students to master the standardized writing test. This method breaks the response down into five parts:

  • One Opening paragraph
  • Three Body paragraphs
  • One Closing/Conclusion Paragraph

Though the Five-paragraph essay is effective when instructing students specifically for success on standardized tests that are now used in across the United States, some believe that this instruction interferes with the idea of "best practice," or instruction that best prepares or is most thorough in writing studies (Higgins et al).

In contrast, Linda Flower and John Hayes published findings regarding the idea of "writing as discovery" (Flower and Hayes). Writing as discovery allows for students to creat knowledge through writing so that they are able to refine their ideas and writing skills. This idea contributes to the controversy over only mastering the five-paragraph essay in secondary writing education. In some cases, instructors are eliminating any kind of formative evaluation at all (Wilson) because they believe them to be constraining and limiting for the students creativity in writing.

Works CitedEdit

Connecticut State Board of Education. (2012) The Connecticut Academic Performance Test 3rd Generation Interpretive Guide.

Flower, Linda and John Hayes. "The Cognition of Discovery." The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Norton. (2009) 467-478

Graham, Steve, Michael Hebert and Karen Harris. "Throw 'em Out or make 'em Better? State and District High-Stakes Writing Assessments." Focus on Exceptional Children 44.1 (Sept 2011): 1-12

Higgins, Betty, Melinda Miller and Susan Wegmann. "Teaching to the test... Not! Balancing Best Practice and Testing Requirements in Writing." Reading Teacher. 60.4 (2007): 310-319

Wilson, Maja. "Why I Won't Be Using Rubrics to Respond to Student's Writing." The English Journal. 96:4 (March 2007) 62-66