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Open Access Publications from the University of California

CFP Special Issue on Student Self-Placement Practices

The Journal of Writing Assessment (JWA) is developing a Special Issue focused on Methods of Student Self-Placement. Kate Pantelides and Erin Whittig will coordinate the special issue along with JWA editors.

Although placement methods that value student self assessment have existed for decades in the scholarship of Writing Studies (Hackman & Johnson, 1981; Royer & Gilles, 1998; Royer & Gilles, 2003) and in concentrated pockets across colleges and universities (Gere et al., 2010; Toth, 2019), in the last few years the possibility of employing self-placement methods has become a reality for many more faculty and students. Referred to at various times as directed self-placement, guided self-placement, or informed self-placement, these alternative placement methods all share the belief that students can and should make decisions about the courses they take; for that reason, we employ Student Self-Placement (SSP) as an umbrella term to capture the aforementioned alternative approaches to student placement in first-year writing courses.  

A number of circulating discourses have made conversations about SSP particularly timely and perhaps more realistic an option for university stakeholders than it has been in the past. In particular, conversations about equity and inclusion in educational settings have become focal in the wake of George Floyd’s death, BLM protests, and civil rights advocacy (April Baker-Bell, 2020; Ashanti-Young, 2020), and there is broad acceptance that traditional methods of assessment reify inequity. One response to these conversations has been the recognition of increased out of pocket costs for students and the resulting development of open access teaching materials and resources, a move that confronts the monetization of student needs and the increasing creep of Ed Tech into Composition.  Further, the confluence of large university systems adopting SSP coupled with pandemic-induced logistical challenges related to high stakes standardized testing (Nastal, Poe, & Toth, 2018), has left many increasingly convinced of Royer and Gilles’ (1998) conclusion that SSP “possesses what computer programmers call elegance, what philosophers might call the shine of Occam's razor” (61). As writing teachers and administrators who have instituted SSP in large university systems, we are acutely aware of how tempting the elegance of this solution is. SSP makes inroads in the problems of traditional placement addressed above, yet the “dark side” (if there is one?) of this elegant solution is a design issue: SSP appears simple when in fact it is not. And, like all Open Educational Resources (OER), the resource appears free when, in fact, it can require more labor than traditional methods of placement. Although it’s harder than it looks, we think SSP is worth the investment, and we think it is worth taking a close, collaborative, disciplinary look at SSP to better understand its complexity. 

Many of us who were met with fierce resistance in trying to adopt SSP just a few years ago are now being asked to implement SSP, often on accelerated timelines. Such timelines are particularly stressful given the lack of applied discussion of building SSP. Because effective placement is by necessity local and contextual (Huot, 2002; Moos & Van Zanen, 2019), and the labor of building SSP tools may prevent authors from sharing their work, there is a dearth of the necessary corpus of stories, headaches, successes and failures from which we might all benefit. This is not to demean the existing scholarship about SSP, most of which makes the argument that we should seek alternatives to single-metric placement methods (Crusan, 2011; Toth, 2019; Poe & Eliott, 2018). But since so many of us are convinced, how do we develop and adopt the deceptively simple, elegant solution of SSP? So much of the transferable experiences, skills, and things to look out for in developing SSP remain hidden in the creators’ sea of emails, accepted and rejected proposals, to-do lists, and leftover frustrations. 

This Special Issue of the Journal of Writing Assessment aims to bring these multiple stories to the fore to ensure that the tools to develop SSP are open, accessible, and shared with a wide audience. Stories are knowledge work (Legg & Sullivan, 2018), and we are committed to expanding access to SSP as an inclusive practice. Thus, this Call For Papers invites faculty who have implemented methods of SSP, and even those who are just considering how they might adopt alternative placement, to share their stories so that we might create an accessible corpus that promotes equitable placement practices and attenuates the stigma associated with supported writing courses. We especially invite collaborative manuscripts because we know, based on our own experiences implementing SSP across three different institutions, that though one or two people may spearhead SSP work, actual implementation takes the sweaty work of many (h/t Ahmed). We invite manuscripts that reflect that reality. 

Aspects of SSP that authors may want to address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Design processes of SSP
  • Explorations of SSP as a new genre
  • Lessons learned from implementation of SSP
  • Stories of both successful/unsuccessful attempts to usher in SSP
  • SSP as technical and professional writing work (e.g., user experience)
  • Methodological and philosophical differences between SSP approaches (GSP, DSP, ISP, or multiple measures, etc.) 
  • Logistical considerations for those considering a move to SSP (e.g., using recommendations, self-assessment questionnaires, writing samples, etc.)
  • Technical considerations of developing SSP (working in Qualtrics or other forms managements systems, developing web services for backend communication of results)


The planned timeline for the development of the special issue is:

  • One-page proposals due by 1/23/23 (submitted via email to SI editors);
  • Notification to authors of inclusion in special issue by 3/20/23;
  • Completed manuscripts due by 8/1/23 (submitted through JWA’s portal);
  • Final revised articles due by 2/12/24;
  • Special Issue published in April 2024

Proposals of 400 words (citations optional) must be submitted by January 23, 2023. Please include author(s) names, institutional affiliations, and contact information for the lead author.  Proposals should be submitted directly to the Special Issue editors ( & as email attachments.

Authors will be notified by March 20, 2023 if they are invited to develop their proposal into a full manuscript for potential inclusion in the Special Issue.

Full articles must be submitted via the online system at by 8/1/23; these articles will be peer-reviewed by two external reviewers. Acceptance into the special issue is contingent upon successful review.

We invite questions about possible proposals at & Please include both email addresses in your query.