Very Like a Whale

The Assessment of Writing Programs

by Edward M. White, Norbert Elliot, and Irvin Peckham

Paperback Price $28.95
Ebook Price $22.95

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Winner of the 2015 CPTSC Award for Excellence in Program Assessment

“This book will not merely be significant. It will be required reading for any WPA and for anyone preparing to become a WPA. Moreover, it will raise the level of awareness of and uses for statistical data in our field.”
—William Condon, Washington State University

"[A] valuable scholarly and practical contribution to an understudied area of the field of writing assessment."

Writing and Pedagogy

"​What impresses me most about Whale is its systematic attention to the issue of social consequences of assessment programs. In doing so, Whale offers its readers—in a way few others have done—a constructive synthesis of work in both the fields of measurement and writing."

Assessing Writing

"[A]n important resource for any writing program administrator or writing program assessment researcher. The book isn’t just applicable for graduate students but also for teachers and WPAs. . . . one of the many strengths of this book is not just how it lays out a compelling way to do sound and thoughtful program assessment, but also how through its many extended examples it argues for writing teachers to be an integral part of the entire ongoing process."

Teaching English in the Two-Year College

"[A]n essential guide to theoretical background, writing program development, and writing program assessment in an accessible and usable format. Whether one is seeking to understand the difference between a narrow writing construct sample and a robust writing construct sample, or is needing to develop a vocabulary for engaging and persuading administrators, or is seeking a means for fine-tuning a well-developed program, this text should be central to both design and innovation. Very Like a Whale: The Assessment of Writing Programs belongs on every WPA’s bookshelf.​"​

Composition Studies


Written for those who design, redesign, and assess writing programs, Very Like a Whale is an intensive discussion of writing program assessment issues. Taking its title from Hamlet, the book explores the multifaceted forces that shape writing programs and the central role these programs can and should play in defining college education.

Given the new era of assessment in higher education, writing programs must provide valid evidence that they are serving students, instructors, administrators, alumni, accreditors, and policymakers. This book introduces new conceptualizations associated with assessment, making them clear and available to those in the profession of rhetoric and composition/writing studies. It also offers strategies that aid in gathering information about the relative success of a writing program in achieving its identified goals.

Philosophically and historically aligned with quantitative approaches, White, Elliot, and Peckham use case study and best-practice scholarship to demonstrate the applicability of their innovative approach, termed Design for Assessment (DFA). Well grounded in assessment theory, Very Like a Whale will be of practical use to new and seasoned writing program administrators alike, as well as to any educator involved with the accreditation process.



AALHE Intersection



Journal of Writing Assessment


Edward M. White is emeritus professor of English who held positions at California State University, San Bernardino, and the University of Arizona.

Norbert Elliot is research professor at the University of South Florida and professor emeritus of English at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is coauthor of Early Holistic Scoring of Writing, with Richard Haswell, and Very Like a Whale: The Assessment of Writing Programs, with Edward M. White and Irvin Peckham, and coeditor of Writing Assessment, Social Justice, and the Advancement of Opportunity, with Mya Poe and Asao B. Inoue, and Talking Back: Senior Scholars and Their Colleagues Deliberate the Past, Present, and Future of Writing Studies, with Alice Horning.

Irvin Peckham is teaching professor at Drexel University, where he directs the writing program.

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  • Paperback Price: $28.95
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-87421-985-2
  • Ebook Price: $22.95
  • EISBN: 978-0-87421-986-9
  • Publication Month: March
  • Publication Year: 2015
  • Pages: 224
  • Illustrations: 30 figures
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: by Edward M. White, Norbert Elliot, and Irvin Peckham
  • ECommerce Code: 978-0-87421-985-2
  • Get Permissions: Get Permission

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