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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


An Exploration of Teaching Writing in an Age of High Stakes Assessments

Cathleen K. Stutz.

Recent research suggests that a problem-based approach, or Vygotskian perspective, to teaching writing assists students in developing competence and voice in their writing (Cooper and Odell, 1999; Hillocks, 1995, 2002; Indrisano and Squire, 2000). That instructional approach includes providing students with operationally clear writing objectives; with challenging yet achievable writing problems; with ample opportunity for problem-centered small group discussions, and with coaching from the teacher. Transfer from research to teaching practice is not immediate, so this approach, either in whole or in parts, is an emerging practice in high school English classrooms in the United States.

At the same time, the state of Massachusetts has passed legislation requiring that all students pass a high stakes writing assessment as a high school graduation requirement. The test prompts released to the public ask for persuasive or literary essays. This paper will present the ongoing research on the experiences of secondary school English teachers in light of the demands of the writing assessment being administered in Massachusetts. It will examine the assumptions about writing, as presented in the state writing assessment, as well as the teachers' interpretive frameworks and rhetorical stances toward writing. To what degree does the assessment direct, hinder or help their teaching? If indeed, the teachers are guided by different philosophies about writing, how do they negotiate the external demands with what they believe to be true about writing? How do teachers negotiate the demands of the writing assessment with their work in assisting students' literacy development? The paper will conclude with implications for practice.


Cathleen K. Stutz  (United States)
Assistant Professor of Education
Education Department
Assumption College

A former high school and middle school English teacher,
Cathleen Stutz has been on the faculty of Assumption College since 1995. Prior to that she held positions as a faculty member at New England College and as a research assistant/teaching fellow at Boston University. Her primary professional interests are in language arts education and preservice teacher education.

  • Teaching of writing
  • Writing assessment
  • Reflective teaching
  • Teachers of English/Language Arts

(30 min Conference Paper, English)