Online Writing Assessment – How To Generate Improvement

Imagine that you are a public secondary teacher. You might not be an English or ELA teacher, but you still care about your students’ writing ability. Many of the quizzes and tests you use to test your learners’ achievement in your subject area require basic to advanced literacy. Yet, so many secondary-level students are writing at a primary competence level. Writing assessments really shouldn’t be your responsibility …but it is. In this post, we look at WriteRightNow, a  writing intervention-assessment system for content teachers and how you can use it to improve and track the written expression skills of your students.

Your students now have laptops provided to them by the school district, so they have more tools for editing their writing than you probably did when many assessments were required to be handwritten. And, back in the day, no grammar or spell checkers were available. But these days, teachers have available any number of digital systems to help students improve their writing. So, if you are looking for an online writing assessment system to track student achievement with writing outcomes, and don’t have the budget for expensive edtech software, you are one-click away from an advanced system: (WRN). Just sign up and sign in.

WRN is excellent software with a writing assessment-intervention platform that teachers and students can get for free. And the free version offers several interesting features. For a nominal annual fee of $59.99, teachers can upgrade to access the premium version that allows for more enrolled students (up to 200) and several more advanced features described below.

What Is WriteRightNow and Why Should You Use It?

The University of Oregon-developed WriteRightNow (WRN) to help teachers identify which students need extra instructional support and then analyze the effectiveness of their teaching methods. WRN is part of the easyCBM family of assessments that started in 2006, so it has over two decades of research and development on digital assessments. The best news is that WRN is an online system for improving your student’s writing skills that save many middle- and high-school content teachers time in various ways.

Generating Improvement with Online Writing Assessments


A good writing prompt should inspire your students to create well-thought-out responses, whether writing creative stories or developing informational or argumentative pieces. In WRN, the first (of a simple three-step process) is to write a prompt. In a series of other blogs, we have described an extensive system for finding prompts on the internet (most of which are quite poorly designed) and fixing them in various ways to accommodate the four major types of discourse (narrative/creative, informative/ expository, persuasive/argumentative, and problem-solving.

One good way to get students thinking critically about a prompt is to use supplementary materials such as

  • News articles and PDFs on the websites of professional organizations
  • Podcasts available from content experts on a range of topics
  • Videos accessible on YouTube that provide explicit content information

In completing this first step of developing a writing prompt, you can elect to include these materials as part of the prompt. Such supplemental materials can assist students in. getting started, which is often the most difficult part of the writing process. Furthermore, these various types of supplementary materials can be added to your own WRN prompt library to make it easier for you. With the Deluxe Edition of WRN, you can form teacher groups to develop a content subject area library.


Feedback is a vital part of the writing process and may actually be as instructive as your direct instruction of the writing process. As a classroom teacher, you are likely to have anywhere from 50-150 or more students in the grade level you teach. With that many students, giving quick, genuine feedback can be challenging. Especially because feedback needs to be specific and provide students information on making revisions. Often, students make similar missteps in their writing, like using ineffective or inappropriate transitions, providing few details or examples, or using paragraphs without a topic sentence, etc. So, how does WRN help?

It enables you to build a feedback library of well-thought-out, detailed comments and responses. You can save all of the comments and responses in your library for future use (with a brief tab title), which means you have significantly decreased your time spent providing feedback after the upfront work of creating them. For example, you could make the following feedback comment saved under the tab (title) ‘expand’: You have written some interesting information in this paragraph, but the first sentence doesn’t really orient the reader to all the content in the paragraph.’ Then, when reviewing students’ essays, you can ‘drag and drop’ the tab with the title ‘expand’ anywhere in the student’s essay. And this feedback can be applied to successive students’ writing in the appropriate place, as needed.


As a teacher, you spend countless hours grading assignments and assessments. What if you could cut that time down? WriteRightNow allows you to speed up grading and use the extra time for whatever you want. WRN enables you to speed up the grading process in several ways.

  • Automatic spelling, grammar and style checks. The software allows you to turn on-off a spell checker so you can focus on the relevant aspect for grading papers. Although ‘conventions’ is an important dimension of writing, sometimes, it’s difficult to read a student’s paper when it is littered with mistakes in language usage. WRN provides three types of feedback when activated: Spelling, grammar, and style (with suggestions for improvement).
  • Highlight teacher-identified relevant words. In the second step, after developing and sending students a prompt, teachers can pre-code a scoring algorithm with concepts and vocabulary that they expect to see in students’ responses, which become highlighted in different colored font in the essay (representing different concepts).
  • Use of flexible rubrics. In the third and last step of prompt development, teachers can select a grading/rating rubric for evaluating students’ responses. Various analytic traits can be used (e.g., the traditional 6-trait rubric used by the National Writing Project or with the Common Core State Standards). Other, holistic rubrics can also be selected using a 1-6 single score on quality or a letter grade.

Once teachers complete this last step and send out the prompt (with attached links/documents to support student writing, expected concepts-vocabulary to auto-score essays, and type of grading option such as analytic or holistic rubrics), teachers can quickly evaluate student responses in a ‘page-turning fashion’. This last feature automatically presents a student’s essay with an evaluation page, including feedback library and selected grading scale, and once completed, shows a ‘Final Submit’ or Final Submit & Next’ button so teachers can continue grading successive students’ essays. The software authors have used WRN and found that it takes about 1 minute to grade each paper.

WriteRightNow in your classroom

Why should you use WriteRightNow in your classroom? It will allow you to create excellent writing prompts that encourage your students to think critically. It will enable you to give direct feedback in a much quicker way. Finally, it will allow you to grade the writing responses much more quickly. And perhaps most importantly, WriteRightNow can be used free of charge for up to 40 students. Offering this free online writing assessment tool is fantastic for content teachers in middle and high schools. If you have more than 40 students who would benefit, the paid version is only $59.99 per year, which could be within your annual classroom budget from your school district.

Head over to WriteRightNow and get started for free!