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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Big Rubrics and Weird Genres: The Futility of Using Generic Assessment Tools Across Diverse Instructional Contexts

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Interest "all-purpose" assessment of students' writing and/or speaking appeals to many teachers and administrators because it seems simple and efficient, offers a single set of standards that can inform pedagogy, and serves as a benchmark for institutional improvement. This essay argues, however, that such generalized standards are unproductive and theoretically misguided. Drawing on situated approaches to the assessment of writing and speaking, as well as many years of collective experience working with faculty, administrators, and students on communication instruction in highly specific curricular contexts, we demonstrate the advantages of shaping assessment around local conditions, including discipline-based genres and contexts, specific and varied communicative goals, and the embeddedness of communication instruction in particular "ways of knowing" within disciplines and subdisciplines. By sharing analyses of unique genres of writing and speaking at our institutions, and the processes that faculty and administrators have used to create assessment protocols for those genres, we support contextually-based approaches to assessment and argue for the abandonment of generic rubrics.

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