Issues of Validity in the Assessment of Writing Performance

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Constance Hui Ling Tsai


According to Weigle (2002), any writing test that involves actual writing, as opposed to completing selected response or limited production items, can be considered performance assessment. McNamara (1996) proposed distinguishing between a strong sense and a weak sense of performance assessment. In a second language (L2) writing test in the strong sense, the test task will represent a real-world task like making an official request, and performance will primarily be judged on real-world criteria. The focus of performance assessment is on the successful fulfillment of the task, and not on the successful use of language in performing the writing task. The L2 is only a medium of the performance and an insufficient condition for success. In fact, if aspects of L2 writing ability are stressed at all, criteria reflecting L2 writing ability will only be part of a larger set of criteria used. Performance of the task itself is the target of the assessment (Messick, 1994). In the weak sense of performance assessment, the focus of the assessment is on the language used. Although the task used to elicit writing may resemble real-world tasks, the purpose is to elicit a display of writing ability. 

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