Assessment is in Crisis: Is WriQ Helping or Hurting?

WriQ from TextHelp is one assessment tool that claims to save teachers grading time.
But does it? Let's take a closer look.

Assessment is in Crisis: Is WriQ Helping or Hurting?

Assessment is a crucial part of student learning, but it is in crisis.

Teachers are overworked and students are feeling the effects too. In fact, a recent post by TES revealed that 70% of teachers say their workload, and in particular assessment, is actually harming learning.

The same TES post reported that 80% of teachers felt their workload had significantly increased from 2018 to 2019. Assessment-related tasks are taking up too much teacher time and tools that are not pedagogically sound are a major factor.

While there are many assessment tools that teachers can use, WriQ from TextHelp is one that recently came up in our teacher interviews.

But is WriQ the right assessment tool for education?

Let’s look through a pedagogical lens to find out.

Is WriQ a Complete Assessment Toolset?

Assessment for writing is a process that involves many tasks and often too many tools.

From rubric creation to the input of final grades, teachers and students waste a lot of time and effort if they are forced to switch from tool to tool, time they would rather spend teaching or learning.

The right assessment tool for education, therefore, is one that includes every tool they need to complete all of the tasks in their assessment process.

Is WriQ a complete toolset?

We walked through each step in the assessment process to find that answer.

Rubric Creation

The assessment process most often starts with the creation of a grading rubric.

Teachers communicate their expectations to students, giving them a clear guide to how coursework will be evaluated, using rubrics.

Rubrics are often distributed to students with their assignment instructions. As well, they need to be accessible where and when students write, such as inside the Google Docs app.

In WriQ, teachers who subscribe to the free version cannot create rubrics and must use one of three non editable rubrics provided. These three rubrics cannot be distributed to students with their assignment instructions and are inaccessible to them where and when they write.

If teachers subscribe to the paid version of WriQ, they can create their own rubrics. Rubrics in WriQ still cannot be distributed to students with their assignment instructions. That said, if a school has installed WriQ’s Chrome browser extension for students, they will be able to access this rubric where and when they write.

Formative Feedback

Formative feedback is an essential part of the assessment process, as stated in the Queen’s University teaching module.

Unfortunately, WriQ was designed for rubric-based grading only. Teachers will be forced to use an additional tool or tools for text or voice commenting, wasting valuable time and effort.

Assessment Intelligence

As written by Matthew Lynch in the Edvocate, assessment’s purpose is to give students a snapshot of where their learning and skills are today and to give them adjustments that will help them hit their goals tomorrow.

To be able to do that, teachers must receive assessment intelligence – a feed of actionable information about the student – where and when they are giving feedback or grading.

This real-time feed will help them answer key questions like:

  • Has the student read and applied prior feedback?
  • If not, then where and why did they disengage?
  • Is the student’s work original or did they plagiarize?
  • Which of the 21st Century or Essential Skills have they demonstrated?
  • Are they meeting grade-level standards for these essential skills?

While WriQ provides teachers and students with metrics, such as a writing score and writing burst score, it does not provide them with answers to these essential questions.

As a result, teachers will be forced to add yet another tool to their assessment toolset or, more likely, rely on their memory or intuition, which can make assessment inconsistent and confusing to students, according to a post by Room to Discover.

Grading

One of the final steps in the assessment process is grading (summative assessment).

Here, teachers use the rubric they distributed to students to evaluate their submission and record a final grade and score in their school’s gradebook, usually a feature of their school district’s Learning Management System (LMS) or Student Information System (SIS).

Both WriQ versions – free and paid – allow teachers to grade student submissions.

The free version only provides three non-editable rubrics. Most teachers will be unable to use WriQ to grade using their school’s standardized grading and scoring scales. This prevents grade input into their school’s gradebook.

If a teacher subscribes to the paid version of WriQ, they should be able to create rubrics to match their school’s standardized grading and scoring scales. Teachers will still have to input those grades into their gradebook manually because WriQ is not integrated with any LMS or SIS.

After going through the entire assessment process, it is clear that WriQ is not the complete toolset that Education needs and will likely waste a lot of teacher and student time and effort.

How Much Teacher Time Does WriQ Free?

We know all teachers are short on time. After going through the assessment process, it is not hard to see why.

A survey carried out by YouGov and GL Assessment found that teachers spend 265 hours (equivalent to 44 days) per school year performing assessments, more time than they spend preparing lessons.

The WriQ website claims that the app frees up time and reduces teacher workload by removing subjectivity and manual time spent grading papers.

But does it really?

We walked through each step of the assessment process to see how much time a teacher can expect to free if they were to use WriQ. Here is what we discovered.

30 minutes to create a rubric

In the free version of WriQ, teachers cannot create custom rubrics. They will likely have to use another tool, such as the table feature of Google Docs, to manually create the rubric they need. This alone can easily add a half an hour of effort to their workload.

In the paid version, teachers can create most types of traditional rubrics in about half that time which is immediately available for grading in their WriQ extension or add-in.

15 minutes distributing rubrics to students

Because students must receive a copy of a rubric with their assignment instructions, by using WriQ, teachers will likely be forced to spend additional time and $3.31 printing to distribute that rubric to students.

8.5 hours adding formative feedback

Since WriQ does not provide tools to add comments to student submissions, teachers will be forced to use an additional tool, like Google Docs comments, to provide formative feedback, adding up to 8.5 hours to their workload according to teacher interviews.

4.5 hours grading

Based on interviews, teachers spent 10 minutes grading each 300-word submission using the paid version of WriQ. Assuming the average US class size of 25.5 students, a teacher can expect to spend 4.5 hours grading each class assignment.

1 hour inputting grades into a gradebook

WriQ provides progress tracking dashboards to both teachers and school administrators. Yet, they do not integrate with or align to the grading and scoring scales of any gradebook. Teachers can expect to spend an additional hour manually inputting grades.

Compared to more dated assessment tools, like Google Docs comments, WriQ provides teachers faster and more data-rich grading experience.

Using WriQ, teachers and students must still use additional tools to complete all of their assessment tasks. They should expect to add up to 11 hours to their existing workload.

Does WriQ Enable Personalized Learning?

“One-size fits all” education does not work. Personalized learning drives the current and future era of learning.

According to Phoebe Powell of Xello, the goal of personalized learning is to keep students engaged so they can reach their potential without leaving teachers overworked or overwhelmed.

Current assessment tools do not achieve personalized learning. This forces teachers to rely on their memory, intuition and overtime to tailor lessons to each student’s needs.

The next generation of assessment tools – like JoeZoo and Turnitin – were designed to provide teachers with a feed of Assessment Intelligence when they are giving feedback or grading, so now Personalized Learning is finally possible.

Is WriQ part of this ‘next generation’ of assessment tools that enables personalized learning?

Clearly not because it does not provide teachers with the Assessment Intelligence they need.

Is WriQ a Student-Centered Assessment Tool?

Education has tried to shift assessment from being teacher-centered to student-centered, with little success so far.

Student-centered assessment empowers students to play an active role in their assessments and to drive their own improvements. Beckett Loveless shows us how in the article “Developing a student-centered classroom.”

We analyzed whether WriQ is a student-centered assessment tool to see if it helps education with this shift. Here is what we found.

Unlike most other assessment tools, WriQ offers a “Student Experience”. WriQ designed this interface for students to use while they write and to track their progress year-round.

In theory, this feature is a notable step towards student-centered assessment. In practice, the information it provides does not incentivize them to build the most essential skills.

The Student Experience does not provide students with automated feedback on their writing quality – such as grammar and readability. That said, it does award them digital skill badges for increases in ‘writing bursts’. The number of words a student types in an uninterrupted flow is the definition of a ‘writing burst’. Are ‘writing bursts’ considered an essential writing skill by any pedagogical source? Unfortunately, not.

Students must wait until a teacher grades their work to see just a summary of essential writing skills, such as grammar and writing maturity.

Does WriQ Help Students Improve Essential Writing Skills?

We have been in a writing skills crisis since 1998, according to the Nation’s Report Card.

Since then, less than 30% of 12th grade students have graduated with the written communication skills required for college and careers.

But WriQ describes itself as a ‘writing achievement tool’, so perhaps it is playing a part in reversing the crisis.

Let’s take a look at its features, to see if that is indeed true.

Writing Feedback

As itemized in this guide by Better Writing Feedback, to write effectively, students need to receive understandable and actionable writing feedback quickly, consistently and frequently.

In the Student Experience, WriQ does not provide students with writing feedback that meets this standard.

In the teacher interface, however, WriQ assesses the document and automatically highlights writing errors. The pink color-coded highlights are for grammar, yellow for spelling and purple for punctuation.

This color-coding of writing errors is pedagogically sound to visually differentiate categories of errors for students. Though WriQ does not label the specific error type or provide an explanation of the rule. In turn, students do not learn how to avoid that error in future writing.

Only after a teacher grades an assignment, do the highlighted writing errors become visible to students. Students cannot improve their current work and apply error corrections, losing formative value.

Self-Editing Skills

Studies such as “Teaching proofreading skills as a means of reducing composition errors” recommend that students edit their own coursework, as it is an essential writing skill.

With WriQ, students can only see their writing metrics and errors after their teachers have graded the assignment. Students cannot build their self-editing skills using WriQ.

Writing Frequency

Pedagogy proves that students who receive more writing practice see an increase in student achievement.

Teacher interviews reveal that students need more writing opportunities in all their courses, not just in English Language Arts (ELA).

Non-ELA teachers are unlikely to use WriQ because it is not a complete assessment tool. This means it is unlikely to increase student writing frequency.

Is WriQ the Right Assessment Tool for Education?

So what have we learned about WriQ?

WriQ is an incomplete assessment toolset.

It does not provide teachers and students with all of the tools they need for the entire assessment process. It is likely to waste valuable hours and effort switching between tools.

And, because WriQ does not provide any formative feedback tools, it has  limited use to teachers of non-ELA courses. This means students will continue to get insufficient opportunities to practice their writing skills.

While it does provide a ‘Student Experience’, that experience fails to incentivize students to build essential writing skills, like Self-Editing and Writing Quality.

With only 60,000 users, according to the Chrome Webstore, perhaps Education is  telling us that WriQ is not the assessment tool it needs. TextHelp is a well respected educational technology company, but they miss the mark on making assessment student-centered.

Carl Mascarenhas