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de-testing and de-grading schools

Authentic Alternatives to Accountability and Standardization

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Edited By Joe Bower and Paul L. Thomas

A century of education and education reform, along with more than three decades of high-stakes testing and accountability, reveals a disturbing paradox: education has a steadfast commitment to testing and grading. This commitment persists despite ample research, theory, and philosophy revealing the corrosive consequences of both testing and grading in an education system designed to support human agency and democratic principles. This revised edited volume brings together a collection of updated and new essays that confronts the failure of testing and grading. The book explores the historical failure of testing and grading; the theoretical and philosophical arguments against testing and grading; the negative influence of tests and grades on social justice, race, class, and gender; and the role that they play in perpetuating a deficit perspective of children. The chapters fall under two broad sections. Part I, Degrading Learning, Detesting Education: The Failure of High-Stake Accountability in Education, includes essays on the historical, theoretical, and philosophical arguments against testing and grading. Part II, De-Grading and De-Testing in a Time of High-Stakes Education Reform, presents practical experiments in de-testing and de-grading classrooms for authentic learning experiences.
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Chapter Sixteen: De-grading Writing Instruction: Closing the “Considerable Gap”

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

De-grading Writing Instruction

Closing the “Considerable Gap”

P. L. THOMAS



After 18 years teaching high school English in rural Upstate South Carolina, a career that was deep in my heart and bones as a teacher of writing, I moved to higher education in part as an act of professional and scholarly autonomy. Teaching education courses, however, has proven to be less fulfilling and off-kilter to my central concerns with directly addressing developing critical literacy—fostering writers.

After being allowed to teach one section of my university’s introductory English course during my first years as an assistant professor, I was fortunate that my university reimagined its curriculum, replacing the two required first-year English courses with two first-year seminars designed to inspire and fuel student engagement in learning. One of the first-year seminars is writing intensive, and the seminars are taught by professors across departments—not just the English faculty.

This curriculum change has afforded me a unique opportunity to teach writing-intensive first-year seminars each fall as part of my small administrative role as Faculty Director, First Year Seminars. In those courses, I have the autonomy to implement writing workshop and, most significantly, to de-grade the feedback process of my students drafting their essays. In that context, this chapter opens with a brief discussion of how the writing curriculum has suffered a failed history in formal education—almost completely disconnected from the research...

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