Posted by: Admin | February 7, 2012

Writing Formative Assessment: Assessing Students’ Writing Ability through Picture-Cued Tasks

Written by:

Mobit Warsono Atmojo

Student of Uhamka Jakarta

I.     Background

In the current era when the technology develops rapidly, writing is getting important skill. It is a plausible skill in language context due to the development of science and technology could not be separated from the writing. The tools of science and technology therefore are in line with the importance of writing skill. Writing of course is not merely one of the developing technology aspects, but it is as one of the dozen takes role in the science and technology developments.

As the evidence of the technology development effect is the usage of some technology devises as the result of it. The uses of web, blogging, some social media, or even the message sending through mobile phone are as instances. The Face book and Twitter are the example of social media which are facilitated by the writing skills.  That is why the students should enhance the skill of writing. And in the context of technological era English writing skill is an evitable one. Hence, the English learning  which are being faced by students should be enhanced by the teacher in order to grab the teaching and learning objective that consider English as a communication tool.

To teach students writing, especially in English Foreign Language (EFL) is letting them to write in English as suggested by Hughes, ‘the best way to test people’s writing ability is to get them to write (Hughes, 1989:75).

This mini research therefore is aimed to know the students’ ability on writing, especially descriptive one. It is caused by my teaching experiences with them during almost four months that has not made good improvement yet. They seem to be confused by the school material.

II.     Discussion

Theoretical Review

English teaching and learning in Indonesian context is challenging. The English learning is considered as special language here due to the role of English in the global world. The role of English is different from the other languages because the English users spread throughout the nations or peoples in the world.

In order to jump into the worldwide well, people should learn the media which is used in the world communication. The one character of the global world is the usage of technology media to communicate with.

Some extents of world communication are the use of some internet-based communication means. The current means of communication which are used in the modern life are like electronic mail (e-mail), blogging, Face Book, Twitter, and short message service (SMS). They are currently getting popular devises in humans’ communication in the world.

To correspond the students’ writing skill to the ideal usage of technological media, students should be conditioned into the situations.  It means that the learning process and the assessing paths should be addressed towards the ideal function of the language in the communication era.

In addition, regarding to the classroom writing assessment, Weigle (2004) distinguishes writing assessment into two terms; writing evaluated by teacher which the students’ works are scored or graded, and which is not evaluated by teacher. For the last, they need not teachers’ grades or scores. For those which are evaluated by teachers, the students’ works is as a referent of giving students scores. Whereas the unevaluated by teacher, they are considered as a creative writing which teacher just give a verbal comment not a numerical score or letter grades.

Writing skill has been a beneficial one in the language teaching and learning context. Brown (2004: 219) has grouped the genre of writing into three classes; academic writing, job-related writing and personal writing. Each group of writing genre has its particular objective and specification. Academic writing is a writing activity that focuses on the educational writing such as papers, reports, compositions, short-answer test responses, theses and dissertations, and so on.

The kinds of profession also have certain classes of writing which correlated to the jobs. They are some of the writing results which are required in a job or business matter. Brown gives some examples of job-related writing such as; messages, letters or emails, memos, project reports, schedules, labels, signs, advertisements, announcements and manuals. The other genre is personal writing. They are the genres which are correlated with the personal or individual activities such as; letters, emails, greeting cards, invitations, messages, notes, personal journals, and fictions.

Brown (2004: 220), than, divides the writing performance into four types which is considered by the uniqueness of written production. These kinds of performance reveal the complexity of the writing production result. They are imitative, intensive, responsive and extensive.

The imitative writing is the simple writing which consists of the easiest and fundamental skill such as, basic task of writing letters, words, punctuations and very brief sentences. The intensive has produced “appropriate vocabulary within a context, collocations, and idiom and correct grammatical features up to length of the sentences.” Whereas the responsive defined by Brown, is as the written production which has “a limited discourse level, connecting sentences into a paragraph and creating a logically connected sequence of two or three paragraphs.”(220). The last is the extensive writing which is the most complex performance such as long essays, term papers, a major project report and even a theses.

By knowing the type of performance and the genre of the written production, teacher could identify which types are going to use to assess their student. Identifying of the target type will address to the material preparation is going be used to asses the students.

From the previous genres and type of written productions, I can suit what kind of assessment sources which is suitable for students at level Junior High School. They are very influential in order to find the appropriate material which fulfill of the academic and personal writing. This genre accommodates the student writing result due to the students tend to write those are related to the school activities.

Related to the objective of the writing assessment, Brown has specified some objectives or criterions that should be considered by the tester. Which objective is being gained for the assessment; such as hand writing ability, correct spelling, writing sentences that are grammatically correct, paragraph construction, logical development of a main idea (Brown, 2004: 218).

 Formative Assessment

Assessing students does not separate from the teaching and learning process. It will always follow the activity because the teaching activity is considered as thing which affects the existence of assessment. Assessment according to Brown (2004:4) is an ongoing process that encompasses a much wider domain. Some activities can be considered as the domain of assessment activities.

The assessment has some functions. Then, Brown by referring from some literature distinguished the assessment functions as formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment is evaluating students in the process of ‘forming’ their competencies and skills with the goal of helping them to continue that growth process. Summative assessment, then, is wished to measure, or summarizes, what a student has grasped, and typically occurs at the end of course or unit of instruction (Brown:6).

In sum, the two function of assessment will have different ckaracteristic related to the teaching and learning process and the feedback of them.

The Reliability, Validity and Washback

The assessment products should be similar when they are assessed to each student. There are many students those are probably assessed by using the same task. If the result of the assessment similar means the reliability of the assessments are achieved. As illustrated by Brown (2004:20) that “if you give the same test to the same student or match student in deferent occasion, the test should yield similar results”

In sum, the result of the assessment from the previous data indicates that the reliability of the assessment task is achieved.

As stated by Gronlund (1998) in Brown (2004:20) defines that validity  “is the extent to which inferences made from assessment results are appropriate, meaningful, and useful in term of the purpose of the assessment.”  The writing assessment, in other word, will be valid if it test or measure the writing.

As stated in the purpose of the assessment previously, that this assessment is to assess the students’ writing ability which is meant to address the validity of the assessment.

Whereas Balley, (1996:259) in Davidson stated that “washback is generally defined as the influence of testing on teaching and learning”. It is plausible that the relationship between validity and washback is very critical. Washback will be achieved if the validity of the assessment is achieved.

In addition, Morrow (1986) proposed the term ‘washback validity’ to denote the quality of the relationship between a test and associated teaching. He concluded that if the test is valid means it will has good washback,  and conversely, if the test is invalid, it will has negative washback’ (Davidson: 222). In sum, the two terms have closed relationships.

Washback can effect to both the teacher and students. The some examples of good wasback are; to pay attention to the lesson, to prepare more thoroughly, to learn by heart, prepare lessons more thoroughly, do their homework, take the subject being tested more seriously, and so on. (Davidson 224).  And the negative effect will also happen to the both student and teacher, like demotivated teaching and learning, lazy to come to the classroom, both teacher and students seem fatigued in attending the class, and so on.

The assessment objectives

Assessment result (score) is very beneficial for teacher to create the better program or material for the students assessed. In line with the impact of the washback, the result of the assessment can be functioned as the improving of the teaching and learning process and also material.

The purposes of the writing assessment, as Bachman and Palmer (1996) in Wigle (2004), are to make inferences about students’ language ability; therefore Picture-cued Task is used for this mini research. The reasons of using it is to know how the students detach the almost ubiquitous reading and writing connection and offering instead a nonverbal means to stimulate written responses. (Brown:226). On the other word, assessing students’ writing ability through the task wished to get description of the picture more and examine the students capability in internalizing kinds of material have learnt.

The learning activities have being done during three months by taking  some material from related books of SMP students, which are supposed to be difficult for the students. By taking the materials which are not comprehended by the students, wish to enrich the comprehension of related material.

Actually the test was not the only one test which has been tested to the students. There are some varied tests before that have been done by the students. I often give the tests that consist of some pictures which should be described based down some particular tenses. The objective of using this kinds of this kinds of test for them is assessing their writing ability corresponds to the appropriate context or to stimulate students responses. (Brown:226)

The teaching and learning process which has been conducted for some couples times are expected to get improved as targeted by the administration. For this reason, therefore, the learning objective is to comprehensively give students comprehension of their schools material and try how to implement in the real life of description.

The assessment is addressed to how to get the inferences of students writing ability based on the pictures. After getting the inferences, according to Bachman and Palmer the purpose of assessment is to make decisions based on the inferences.

The existing inferences which are found from the assessment will be functional for kinds of improvement. Some improvements are like to make a variety of decision at an individual, classroom or even program level.

Therefore, by the results of writing assessment of our student, there are some planning can be reviewed and produced such as, getting student motivated in learning, improving the material, having adequate preparations of teaching, and learning programs.

What will be assessed?

The assessment will assess students’ writing skill descriptively. By the sequence pictures, students will get not merely how to construct sentence but also how to order the story in good sentence order. That is why the material used in this mini research is a piece of picture consisted of some sequential pictures.

Furthermore, the students have to write some sentences based on the pictures. They can use their ready-use vocabulary or tenses (grammatical knowledge) they have learnt from schools or courses. The task is creating six expressions related to the pictures, activities and times. In sum, by referring of what Brown (2004: 218) stated as the objective or criterion of the assessment, this assessment is meant to assess of students’ ability in writing sentences that are grammatically correct. On the other word, they are to know how students write sentences based on provided pictures grammatically.

The time allotment for accomplishing the assessment is 45 minutes. The time given is plausible with some consideration such as they way they were doing the pilot assessment which done before with simpler questions.


In which students the assessment conducted?

This minor research is conducted at the classroom context. It means that it was very simple which consists of only a teacher and seven students. Here, seven students are as the respondents and also the learner, and a teacher as those who engage with the learners in the learning process (Weigle: 24). On the other word, it is not conducted in a large-scale educational assessment, which conducted out of the classroom.

The assessment is conducted in my private class in Bekasi. The number of the students is five persons who come from different classes and school of SMP numbered 5 students, class one (3 students), class two (1 student) and class three consists of one students. They live in one surrounding in certain housing complex in West Bekasi.

The data achieved is aimed to get inferences of the students who factually are the Junior High Students but by some meetings can be identified that the class in the low to middle level. It means that it will reflect to the level of results of the assessment. Hence the same kinds of assessment are not conducted at merely by this time, but time to time.


In the writing assessment context, there are many ways of scoring writing works. Each type of writing work has specific characteristics. In scoring, there fore need different ways.

To score this writing assessment, we use the scoring scales proposed by Brown (2004:228). He made some scale as the following:


Research Finding

Based on the scoring which is proposed by Brown (2004:228) the students responses on the writing assessment can be concluded as below:






1 Puput 1 5 She has low score. She does some mistakes like; still loses the object of transitive verb, punctuations,  and could  not distinguish the present simple and continous.
2 Derry 1 3 He has very low scores because of doing some mistakes like; confused on the word order, low punctuations, and disable to differentiate the tenses.From the 12 possible score, he gets only 3.
3 Rifqi 1 5 He has low score because he does some mistakes like; still confused on present simple verb, low punctuations,  and does inappropriate tenses.
4 Ihsan 2 5 He has low score because of doing some mistakes like; inappropriate tenses, low punctuations,  and does not care about the tenses.
5 Noval 3 8 He has enough scores. He does little mistakes like; omitting  ‘s’ in the verbs of Present Simple, and has not cared about the punctuation yet.

Research Inferences

Based on the Bachman and Palmer as previously mentioned, the secondary purpose of assessment is to make the related decisions which are referred to the inferences. Hence, based on the result of each student’s work could be concluded that:

  1. All respondents are still confused in choosing the appropriate tenses to describe the picture, although they are helped to identify before the test.
  2. All respondents do not care of the punctuation during producing the sentences. They ignore using the capital letters, commas, and so on.
  3. Most students are still confused on identifying of verb that need object or not or distinguishing of the appropriate tenses.


As stated before that washback is achieved if the assessment is valid. From the result indicated that there are still many problems related to the items assessed. The item assessed in this assessment is lexical and grammatical choice. The students have answered vary based on their interpretation on the picture supported by the vocabulary and the grammatical aspects they have achieved.

As the consideration of the washback, here are something related to the  classroom:

  1. The students need much treatment correspond to the general writing ability.
  2. The students have to be given over explanations of grammatical aspects such as diction (vocabulary choosing), punctuation, and grammatical aspects.
  3. The students have to be facilitated with the autonomous learning to train themselves in improving writing skills, for instance description tasks.

III.           Conclusions

Language Assessment is a complex work. It is likely because a language assessing means finding the data of the result of teaching and learning process. The stages of assessment are very critical to be paid attention in order to grab the functional assessment results.

The assessment result will be meaningful for the following teaching and learning program. The function of the assessment is as formative assessment which is aimed to evaluate students in the process of ‘forming’ their competencies and skills with the goal of helping them to continue that growth process.

Those who are important to assess the result are the student themselves, teacher, institution and the parent. They are responsible in the teaching and learning process. The final goals of the assessment, therefore, to improve all those correspond to the teaching and learning process in order to get better output.

From the mini research of assessing students’ writing ability through Picture-Cued Tasks, I find some results that indicates students still need more treatment and explanation of writing skills, especially in lexical and grammatical aspects. In addition, the students also need to be motivated either intrinsically or extrinsically in studying in order to get better improvement.


 Brown, H. Douglas. (2004). Language Assessment, Principle and Classroom Practices, Longman: San Fransisco State University

Davidson, Fred, and Glenn Fulcher. (2007) Language Testing and Assessment, Roudledge

Nixon, Caroline and Michael Tomlison (2009). Kid’s Box, Activity Book 6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Rayment, Tabatha. (2006). 101 Essential Lists on Assessment, Continuum, London

Weigle, Sara Cushing. (2002). Assessing Writing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Appendix 2. The responses of students







1 Puput 1 State Islamic
  1. She brush at a half past eight
  2. Vina and Fathan read book at a quarter to five
  3. Alif play guitar at ten past three
  4. husnul and Ramadhan watch TV at ten to six
  5. Legi play volley at five to three
  6. Rian and nisa eat Bread at Twenty Five Past one








2 Derry 1 Private
  1. She The brush on a half past nine
  2. They reading on six to fifteen
  3. Husin playing Gitar on Ten past There
  4. They watch TV on ten to six
  5. She voli Ball on a quarter past eleven
  6. They food on Twenty Five Past two








3 Rifqi 1 State
  1. Dewi brush at half Past eight
  2. Sinta and dodi study at ten Past three
  3. Tono Play gitar at ten Past three
  4. Tina and bobi watch TV at ten to six
  5. Rini play volley ball at three Past eleven
  6. Ikhsan and lili eat at Five Past one








4 Ihsan 2 State
  1. She brous at half Pas eight
  2. Rina and Roni study at a quarter to five
  3. Reza play gitar at ten past three
  4. Raga and Nana watch tv at ten to six
  5. Nadia play voly ball at a quarter past eleven
  6. Faiz and Seka lunch at twenty fife Past one








5 Noval 3 State Islamic
  1. She ussualy brush at A half past eight
  2. Ikhsan and Lili study at A quarter to five
  3. Reza always play guitar at five Past three
  4. Eva and C. Gonzales watch TV together at ten to six
  5. She always play volleyball at a quarter past eleven
  6. Rihana and Bruno mars always have lunch at twenty five past one









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