Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

Race and American Literacy Testing: Using Socially Situated Research to Understand Student Performance on Large Scale Literacy Tests

Poe Mya.

Authentic assessment has been lauded by the assessment and literacy communities as providing fairer forms of assessment. However, few have investigated whether direct writing assessment actually makes testing “fairer” by providing more equitable outcomes for students of color (Madeus 2001). In this presentation, I review existing data on literacy test results in the US to show how even authentic forms of literacy testing can replicate educational “achievement gaps” (Smitherman 1993, Supovitz and Brennan 1997). I believe that educational researchers must ask different kinds of questions of testing to understand why this gap persists in authentic forms of assessment. Such a perspective uses socially situated research (Street 1995, Fairclough 1992, Ivanic 1998), social psychological (Steele 1998), and critical race theory to move beyond simplistic theories about race to understand how testing situations construct test-takers and, in turn, how students construct literacy tests based on their assumptions of readers’ identities.

I illustrate how this approach was used in a year-long research study to understand the connection between audience, writer, and racial identity in a literacy testing context. The results reveal that students’ expectations about readers’ racial identities trigger feelings of stereotype threat and affect the way that students compose their essays. The results suggest that test performance is not merely reflective of individual ability but also reflects broader socio-cultural norms for academic performance. Such analysis can be useful for other researchers who seek to study the effects of testing for indigenous, working class, or racial minorities in educational systems.


Poe Mya  (United States)
Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mya Poe is a Ph.D. candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is also a Lecturer in Scientific Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT she has helped direct various assessment projects, including the freshman essay evaluation and iMOAT online essay evaluation. Previously, she was a Research Associate for Assessment at the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment, University of Massachusetts, where she helped conduct educational assessment research.

  • Assessment
  • Literacy
  • Race and Identity
  • Education and Equality

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)