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Iowa Writing Assessment

Iowa schools can register for IWA by logging in to ITP Online Tools.


The Iowa Writing Assessment is designed to measure students' abilities to generate, organize, and express their ideas in a variety of written forms. Well-constructed multiple-choice language tests can provide highly reliable measures of students' knowledge of grammar and the conventions of standard written English (spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and usage). By their nature, however, such tests tap students' editorial rather than production skills. In addition, these tests tend to emphasize sentence-level or occasionally paragraph-level, rather than discourse-level, skills.


  • Reflects the important stages of the writing process: prewriting, composing, and editing
  • Provides continuous assessment of students' writing skills in Grades 3-12
  • Includes prompts for each of four writing modes at each test level: descriptive, expository, narrative, and persuasive
  • Offers two scoring methods: focused holistic and analytic
  • Includes extensive support materials for use in local scoring
  • Serves as an excellent staff development activity
  • Can be administered by the classroom teacher in one class period
  • Links with the Iowa Assessments through concurrent standardization to provide a comprehensive measure of written English

Content Description

Actual student writing is seldom pure. It generally contains elements of several types of discourse simultaneously. However, instruction in writing frequently attempts to teach separately the strategies involved in different types of writing. As a result, the Iowa Writing Assessment distinguishes one type from another. Measurements are more reliable when different types of writing are measured separately. They are also probably more valid because a prompt can be selected that reflects the type of writing students have had the most experience with in the classroom. An overview of the four modes of discourse is given below:

  • A narrative essay tells a story. It has character, setting, and action. The characters, the setting, and the problem of the narrative are usually introduced in the beginning. The problem reaches its high point in the middle. The ending resolves the problem.
  • A descriptive essay is used to create a vivid image of a person, place, or thing. It draws on all of the senses, not merely the visual. Its purpose is to enable the reader to share the writer's sensory experience of the subject.
  • A persuasive essay states an opinion and supports it convincingly. It considers the nature of the audience and marshals evidence accordingly. It is neither completely objective nor wholly emotional. Instead, it uses the controlled feelings of the writing to persuade the audience.
  • An expository essay can take a variety of forms. It may tell how to make or do something, report on an experience, or explore an idea. Expository writing conveys information to the reader in such a way as to bring about understanding, whether it be of a process or procedure, or of the writer's ideas about a concept.

Materials and Scoring

Classroom test packages contain 25 test booklets and answer folders, one directions manual, and three different types of record sheets for use in scoring. Packages are available for each of the four modes of discourse at the separate grade levels.

For scoring purposes, these materials are available: a manual for scoring and interpretation, scoring protocols and anchor papers, and a set of training papers. These are available for each combination of mode and grade level. In addition, unique materials are available for analytic and holistic scoring.