Assessing Student Writing: The Influence of Linguistic Features on Teacher Judgments

Autorin: Dr. phil. Cristina Vögelin,

Assessing student performance is a crucial aspect of teaching and central to the expertise of a competent teacher. It thus belongs to teachers’ diagnostic competence that influences both student learning and course achievement (Baumert & Kunter, 2006; Hamp-Lyons, 2016; Südkamp & Praetorius, 2017). In practice, however, teachers describe writing assessment as a difficult task (Hyland, 2008) and have reported that they do not feel adequately prepared to assess student writing at the end of their teacher training (Mertler & Campbell, 2005; Rauin & Meier, 2007). In addition, previous research has reported distortion effects in teachers’ assessment of student compositions (Eckes et al., 2016; Weigle, 2016). These shortcomings in teachers’ assessment skills are critical, as writing in a second or foreign language is becoming increasingly important for students throughout the world in educational, professional, and personal contexts. Writing belongs to the essential skills that students need to develop (Hyland 2008) and it is thus also a crucial element in the Swiss and German second or foreign language classroom at upper-secondary level (Keller, 2013). Therefore, this dissertation investigates how teachers assess and respond to English as a Second Language (ESL) student writing at uppersecondary level in Switzerland and Germany in four empirical studies. These studies examine the influence of linguistic features on teacher judgments of ESL argumentative essays by exploring different forms of writing assessment, such as scores on holistic and analytic rating scales, teachers’ self-reported identification of strengths and weaknesses in student writing, and written commentary directly responding to student texts. Further, it includes analyses using natural language processing (NLP) tools, which have shaped recent developments in writing assessment. The findings of the different studies illustrate how key linguistic features of ESL argumentative essays influence teachers’ analytic assessment and written commentary. The results displayed strong effects of vocabulary and organisational quality on other analytic criteria. This dissertation revealed effects in qualitative comments and identified central linguistic features in teachers’ formative feedback. It thus adds to the theoretical understanding of teacher judgments of ESL essays and provides empirical data on an essential aspect of diagnostic competence. Further, it contributes to practice by raising attention to the influence of linguistic features on teacher judgments and the importance of fair writing assessment.