Writing Assessments
Information and Opinion Writing Continuums

We have recently developed two new writing continua, one for opinion/argument writing and one for informational writing. These continua are closely aligned to the narrative continuum both in content and structure, with twelve levels (Levels 11-12 forthcoming) for grades K-8, and language designed to support teachers in assessing writing and developing teaching points. Studied side by side, the three continua show how the different types of writing are connected and how work in one bolsters the others. Additionally, these new continua are closely aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Please note that these are works-in-progress and we welcome feedback. We are piloting these assessments in schools that work closely with the RWP. If you are a Project school that currently works with us and have not received access to these important documents, please contact your staff developer. These continua along with our new, CCSS-aligned, grade-specific Units of Study in Writing are available for purchase through Heinemann.

Narrative Writing Continuum

The Narrative Writing Continuum provides you with a rough draft tool for assessing narrative writing. The TCRWP community in general and especially Lucy Calkins have devoted hundreds of hours to constructing this tool and we are proud to share it with you, knowing it can demonstrate the potential power of linking, assessing and teaching. You will no doubt find this tool has amazing instructional pay offs. You’ll be able to see where a particular child’s narrative writing falls in a continuum of development, and imagine what the next steps might be for that child. Then you’ll be able to show the child pieces of writing that are just one notch beyond what the child is writing on his or her own, and even to articulate what a child is already doing in one ‘line of development’ (say, including dialogue) and then articulate what the next step might be in this particular line of development, showing the child an example of what it means to do that next step.

The tool also helps you as an individual teacher and your school as a whole keep your eyes on the goal of teaching writers, not improving written products. Most schools in the TCRWP community of practice ask students to produce an on-demand narrative at the start of the school year (with instructions such as, ‘In the next 50 minutes, write your best small moment story, your best personal narrative, your best true story, about one particular time when you did something that matters to you’). Then after students are engaged in a unit or two of narrative writing (those should take no more than a month each), and after the written products have been published, the teacher will again ask students to do an on-demand piece of narrative writing. If the published work is terrific- say, Level 8, but the student’s independent work hasn’t improved since the start of the year, that should give a teacher pause, making one worry that perhaps instruction has been geared more towards improving the writing than towards teaching in ways that are transferable to another day, another piece, and that make a lasting difference.

This tool has not been published in book format for a reason. It is imperfect. To be perfect, all the pieces of writing included here should be the result of the same process- ideally, written in on-demand conditions. They are not. Then, too, ideally there would be samples that are level 1-3 that have been written by middle school students, with middle school handwriting and spelling. The tool should illustrate that this is not a tool for assessing grammar and spelling (we do have tools for doing this) but instead, for assessing narrative craft, and development in narrative craft is not especially age-bound. You will want to know whether there are standards implicit in this tool- ‘should’ young people be at one level or another at a certain grade. We’re not making that decision for you. What we can say is that this tool can immediately show you the effects of writing instruction. If writers are not progressing or are not very far along in this continuum, it’s probably hard to pin this on the writer because when students receive strong writing instruction, almost all of them will improve in leaps and bounds.

There is another limitation to the tool. It assumes a certain trajectory of development and instruction, one that images focus and detail as early developments in narrative writing. A child might be a fairly strong writer in some ways and yet not yet have learned (or not have chosen) to zoom in, to show not tell, to dramatize rather than summarize, and such a child’s writing will be an enigma when assessed using this continuum.

Finally, we are extremely conscious that no one tool captures all the lines-of-development that constitute growth in writing, and this tool is certainly no exception. For example, this tool does not allow you to assess a writer’s initiative, her fluency and speed, her capacity to critique her own writing, her habits and skills with revision, her abilities to learn from a mentor text, her tendency to draw from a full repertoire of skills that she has learned and to do so with increasing flexibility. We suggest you use the tool for a year or two because, like running records, the tool will end up being internalized within you and will help you draw on more knowledge when you teach. But then we suggest you invent a different tool, one with different lenses and use that for a time as well. Your assessment of writing can never entail all that writing development entails- so be sure to vary your lenses after a time, so that students’ writing it not unduly effected by any one helpful and yet, by definition, limiting way of looking.

We believe in sharing rough draft ideas and tools, because we are quite sure that if you see this as what it is- a flawed but extremely valuable tool- you and your colleagues will go at it, working together to add your own spin, to improve. We ask, however, that you share what you develop and learn with the rest of us so that we might benefit from your piloting and your inventions, and so that, in the end, the larger community might benefit as well. Please send your ideas and work to Teachers College 525 West 120th Street, Box 77, New York, NY 10027 or contact@readingandwritingproject.com