Direct assessment of second language writing: Holistic and analytic scoring

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Author: Ling He

Issue: Spring Issue, 2018

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Direct assessment of second language (L2) writing skill, in which a student is usually assessed by means of an essay on a topic during a limited time period, has been used as a valid measurement of ability to write in comparison to indirect assessment of writing through multiple choices. Although both direct and indirect assessments have a risk of reliability, it is effectively argued that direct assessment is more representative of the integrative aspects of writing (Coffman,1966; Morris-Friehe & Leuenberger, 1992). In this era of globalization, a large number of culturally and linguistically diverse students seek higher education in North America. Direct assessment of L2 writing skill is widely used to assess these newly arrived students’ English proficiency for placement decisions at the beginning of their university programs in the target language. As such, understanding direct assessment of L2 writing is paramount to improve assessment procedures for test validity and fairness. This article reviews direct assessment of L2 writing in the existent research literature with an attention to its two major scoring rubrics: holistic and analytic. The literature review concludes that the purpose of the writing task is significant in deciding which scoring method to use in specific contexts.