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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Journal of Writing Assessment provides a peer-reviewed forum for the publication of manuscripts from a variety of disciplines and perspectives that address topics in writing assessment. Submissions may investigate such assessment-related topics as grading and response, program assessment, historical perspectives on assessment, assessment theory, and educational measurement as well as other relevant topics. Articles are welcome from a variety of areas including K-12, college classes, large-scale assessment, and noneducational settings. We also welcome book reviews of recent publications related to writing assessment and annotated bibliographies of current issues in writing assessment.

Please refer to the submission guidelines on this page for information for authors and submission guidelines.

Student Self Placement

Special Issues

Placement is Everyone’s Business: A Love Letter to Our SSP Coalition

In this introduction to the special issue, the co-editors offer the umbrella term "methods of student self-placement" (SSP) to refer to any placement mechanism that includes student choice so that we can further build theoretical apparatus, gather much-needed empirical data, and subsequently flesh out meaningful differences in approaches. They argue that just as SSP asks us to rethink the mission of first-year writing, it also asks us to rethink some of the divisions in Writing Studies because placement work is meaningful across the university. Ultimately, they conclude that SSP isn't an easy fix for systemic problems in higher education, but it is powerful in fully acknowledging the complexity of placement and meeting students' diverse learning needs. 

Directed Self-Placement for Multilingual, Multicultural International Students

Directed self-placement (DSP) methods remain relatively rare in multilingual writing programs because such methods present unique ethical and academic risks. Grounded in five years of institutional research, this article reports on a first-year writing program in which DSP is the sole means of placement for international students and in which the international student population is linguistically, educationally, and culturally diverse. We offer logistical and technical guidance for creating DSP programs for multilingual writers, and we argue that DSP can be a vehicle for more equitable, socially just writing placement for multilingual, multicultural writers.

It Takes a Campus: Agility in the Development of Directed Self-Placement

Transitioning from a conventional placement model for first-year writing to a student self-placement (SSP) model requires many stakeholders to shift their perspectives on students, assessment, and the nature of the work of writing program administrators (WPAs). This article recounts the communicative and administrative agility involved in launching SSP while simultaneously researching its effects on student success. It also foregrounds the shifts in numerous roles--including those of instructors, students, and advisors, and even our own roles as WPA-researchers--that have been prompted by the transition to SSP. In particular, this article explores the connections between those roles and academic paternalism--an attitude that presumes to know what is best for students, that doubts students' abilities to make good placement decisions, and that treats conventional placement outcomes as the measure against which SSP should be judged. Adherence to academic paternalism and its investment in "expert" assessment of student writing ability emerges as an obstacle to realizing the full potential of SSP to support equitable placement practices.

Localizing Directed Self-Placement: UX Stories and Methods

This article seeks to address the need for research supporting localization efforts in placement assessment. We argue that as a highly technical communication endeavor, directed self-placement (DSP) and its developers can benefit from research in technical and professional communication (TPC). We synthesize the theoretical relations between DSP and TPC, especially regarding models of localization, and demonstrate how implementing user experience (UX) design can help address placement equity concerns by foregrounding accessibility and usability from the beginning. We follow this discussion of DSP and TPC scholarship with storied examples from our institution, providing a sample range of UX methods that (1) are flexible across contexts, (2) are relatively manageable to implement, and (3) are cognizant of WPA, staff, and students’ time, labor, and compensation concerns. We propose DSP as a form of advocacy, and we demonstrate how UX method/ologies are an excellent choice for DSP localization efforts toward equity and accessibility.

(Re)Placing Personalis: A Study of Placement Reform and Self-Construction in Mission-Driven Contexts

Recent movements in higher education have opened many opportunities for writing program administrators to reform first-year writing placement procedures, including continued development and adaptation of Directed Self Placement (DSP) models alongside ongoing research into their potential to foster student agency and advance linguistic, racial, and social justice in the academy. Our study traces and compares the efforts of two writing program administrators to reform flawed placement processes at their two mission-driven liberal arts institutions—one, a small Lasallian university and Hispanic-serving Institution in Northern California; the other, a private research Jesuit university located in New York City. Using inter-institutional, grounded theory research, this study examines students' reflections on their placement choices to understand “substantive validity,” inquiring intentionally into ways that students self-locate with regard to their self-placement assessments and connecting to the mission-based language of personalis, what belongs to the person. Findings indicate that students use four rhetorical moves to personalize their placement: proliferating, riffing, importing, and qualifying. Specifically, the study calls into question current understandings of under-placement in DSP models, complicating DSP’s fundamentals of choice, guidance, and justice.

Supporting Student Linguistic Identity and Autonomy in Directed Self Placement Through Linguistic Domains Using Qualtrics Scoring

In this article, we review the current and dynamic state of multilingual writers, especially their experiences in Composition and with English self-placement methods. Then, we position our institution and department’s theoretical underpinnings for support of multilingual writers and their self-placement, and we describe how we utilized Cavazos and Karaman’s (2021) Translingual Disposition Questionnaire as a framework for our recent revision of our Directed Self-Placement survey and utilized Qualtrics scoring tools to provide students with feedback on a novel language domain.  Our intent was to offer multilingual students transparency and choice in the English placement process so they could select the first year Composition course that best matched their needs. We hope that other WPAs gain insight on how to integrate asset-based philosophies and linguistic domains using Qualtrics scoring to offer their multilingual students more autonomy in their first year Composition experiences. 


Self-Characterization in the Self-Placement Assessment Ecology: Complicating the Stories We Tell about DSP’s Effects and Effectiveness

Scholarship on student self-placement (SSP) emphasizes the importance of understanding methods like directed self-placement (DSP) as dynamic assessment ecologies (e.g., Inoue, 2015; Nastal et al., 2022; Wang, 2020), with implications not only for placement but also for how students conceptualize writing and themselves (e.g., Johnson, 2022). What can be learned about SSP’s ecological impacts by more meaningfully attending not just to patterns in students’ placement decisions but also to the qualitative content of their (self-)reflections and (self-)characterizations? Leveraging a dataset of more than 5,000 SSP pathways, we examine a corpus of short-answer survey responses, totaling more than half a million words, in which students wrote about their strengths as writers and what writing tasks they find most challenging. Students’ words help us understand how they see themselves as writers and how they conceive of college writing expectations. Through data analysis, this study found implications for how corpus data can be used to better understand potential tensions between students’ and institutions’ understandings of academic writing in a self-placement ecology.

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After Implementation: Assessing Student Self-Placement in College Writing Programs

While a growing body of research provides instruction on how to implement student self-placement (SSP) for college writing courses, there is a gap in the literature about how to evaluate SSP after implementation. This article offers strategies and recommendations for assessing SSP processes, based on the authors’ experiences of developing a new SSP mechanism and evaluating its effectiveness over several years. This article presents statistical data from our analysis of our institution’s SSP, which informs a heuristic set o fquestions that others can use to evaluate the effectiveness of their own SSP after implementation. This analysis demonstrates the value of evaluating SSP processes for writing programs, as well as outlining issues that may emerge and should be considered when analyzing SSP.

  • 1 supplemental PDF

Informing Self-Placement: A Polyvocal Narrative Case Study

This article provides a polyvocal narrative of the development, initial assessment, and ongoing revision of an Informed Self-Placement (ISP) process initially implemented during the COVID pandemic. The authors intersperse collectively narrated description how the ISP unfolded in its first two years with individual reflections on those experiences from a variety of positions and identities. Data so far suggest that this ISP process has narrowed but not fully closed racial equity gaps in first-year writing placement while maintaining enrollments and academic performance in the first-year writing course sequence. Persistent equity issues reside not only in the ISP instrument itself but the systems by which students learn about the ISP and the opportunities they have to complete it.