An Assessment of ESL Writing Placement Assessment

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What are the best assessment practices for ESL and international students who must be placed into first-year composition courses at both two- and four-year institutions in the United States? In this article, I examine this issue in three ways. First, I enumerate the stances in the literature; following that I submit results of preliminary research which questions modes of writing assessment and their relationship to final grades in composition classes. Finally, I present results of an internet search of one set of prominent American institutions’ placement practices. From this data, it might be inferred that we use multiple instruments to place ESL students into composition classes rather than resorting to a multiple-choice test (especially a standardized instrument) as the sole means of determining placement.

My primary purposes in this paper are to argue that second language composition specialists need to examine our placement practices and aim for a reconciliation of these practices with our classroom pedagogies. Further, if we are not involved in placement decisions at our various institutions, we must strive to be included in important decisions concerning our students and to be advocates for second language writers.



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