Cognitive and sociopolitical constructs of writing proficiency on a New York English Regents examination

Catherine Longmore, Fordham University


Research has shown that standardized direct writing assessments tend to reflect a decontextualized view of writing, comprising a few general traits that can be accurately and consistently measured across contexts. This view contradicts many composition scholars’ understanding that writing is a complex, dialectic process of meaning making. It also conflicts with sociocultural theories of language use that regard writing as a contextualized endeavor, influenced by purpose, setting, and background. These conflicting notions of writing proficiency underscored the need to examine standardized writing assessment regarding the knowledge and cognitive processes assessed and the social capital that it might privilege. I used the New Taxonomy and critical discourse analysis to analyze the writing tasks of the January 2011 NYS English Regents from a cognitive and sociopolitical lens, respectively. The cognitive analysis revealed that the writing tasks require use of specific analytic processes to produce logically reasoned and structured arguments from printed texts. It also indicated that the elements of development, organization, language use, and conventions function interactively to construct meaning. The sociopolitical analysis evidenced a valuing of decontextualized thinking and sources of meaning making, likely advantaging the performance of middle-class European-American students. Further, it revealed the limitations that the tasks impose on critical inquiry, serving more to promote a sociopolitical ideology of unity and conformity. It also indicated that proficiency in academic discourse likely contributes to student success on the tasks.

Subject Area

Educational tests & measurements|Education|Language

Recommended Citation

Longmore, Catherine, "Cognitive and sociopolitical constructs of writing proficiency on a New York English Regents examination" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3716158.