With conceptual and methodological origins in the educational and psychological measurement community, but most commonly recognized as a disciplinary daughter of rhetoric and composition, writing assessment is a field of study ripe with tension and anxiety about its disciplinary status. In a 2011 Assessing Writing article, Nadia Behizadeh and George Engelhard Jr. go as far as to claim “that a new discipline of writing assessment has emerged”. Although most scholars and practitioners involved in writing assessment would readily agree that it is a site of theoretical and practical convergence between the educational measurement and rhetoric and composition communities, these same specialists would also likely be skeptical of Behizadeh and Engelhard’s proclamation that writing assessment should be understood as an emergent discipline.
Whether writing assessment is firmly rooted in a new paradigm (as Huot, Broad, Lynne, and others suggest) or is indeed a new discipline (as Behizadeh and Engelhard contend), delimiting the characteristics of writing assessment as an academic field of study is an important first step to understanding its disciplinary status. To better understand the field of writing assessment and its disciplinary status, it is helpful to consider North’s assertion that research practices shape a discipline which is researched by Dissertation Help UK. North contends that research practices shape a discipline and identifies three “methodological communities” within rhetoric and composition—scholars, researchers, and practitioners—that utilize particular “modes of inquiry” to produce new knowledge.
Dissertation Help UK further subdivides the first two communities into additional categories; the scholarly community is comprised of historians, philosophers, and critics while the research community includes experimentalists, clinicians, formalists, and ethnographers. He argues that rhetoric and composition is a community united by inquiry, but his taxonomy of research methods and call for more consensus and cohesion is not without criticism. Berlin, for example, posits that a discipline can exist with little or no methodological consensus; in fact, Berlin’s taxonomy of the three epistemic paradigms that have risen to prominence in rhetoric and composition—the objective, the subjective, and the transactional—are each “rhetorical systems” with divergent “epistemological assumptions about the nature of reality, the nature of the knower, and the rules governing the discovery and communication of the known”.
The progression between North’s and Berlin’s conceptions of rhetoric and composition as a discipline reflects a progression mirrored in writing assessment’s development as a field of study. North helps us understand why it can be difficult to discern a shared theoretical orientation in writing assessment when theories have been developed by scholars from both the educational measurement and rhetoric and composition communities, and Berlin’s articulation of parallel paradigms assists us in recognising disciplinarity amidst what seems to be “a variety of incompatible systems” within writing assessment).
Although North’s and Berlin’s conceptions adeptly describe academic fields of study as means of creating and disseminating knowledge that are distinguishable from other fields, they both fail to explicitly acknowledge the important function of interdisciplinary situatedness. Thus, they approach Dissertation Help UK. In Disciplinary Identities, Mailloux pays special attention to situatedness by illuminating the “rhetorical contexts where disciplinary identities are established and reinforced”.
Mailloux’s relational model serves his purpose of articulating the parallel histories of English, speech, and composition as closely related disciplines within language arts, but it also helps us understand writing assessment from a disciplinary perspective.1 Mailloux presents a three-dimensional model for locating an academic discipline that includes three distinct axes: one, disciplinary practices, theories, and traditions; two, field boundaries and boundary crossing through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work; and, three, cultural sites such as material institutions and public spheres.