Institutional Proficiency Levels?

Dear Colleagues,

Vicki Tolar Burton and I recently received an interesting question from a new OSU teacher: What [are the] general expectations at OSU for undergraduate writing competencies, and what resources are there for a student whose skills are less than adequate?

CTL Response:

Your question is appropriate and pertinent.  At this point, no institutional proficiency levels have been set for writing, thinking, fitness, or general broad based knowledge: our general education outcomes.  Proficiency levels in knowledge-in-the-majors are sometimes set for graduates by specific programs, but unfortunately, the “everybody outcomes” (general education) continue to be the “lost child” in the larger institutional curriculum.

Our faculty must set minimum proficiency levels for graduation by designing and embedding writing assessments at entrance, midpoint and exit from OSU.  Until that happens,  students can maneuver through the institutional curriculum without language literacy.  Students do this by focusing course work primarily in areas that require numeracy literacy and avoiding courses that require much writing (there is a vibrant undercurrent of “advising” going on among students about which teachers [and courses] are more rigorous than others). As a faculty, we have not sufficiently woven writing into all Major curricula, therefore  students can (and do) AVOID writing practice over the course of their 4-6 years on our campus. (It is important to note here that students with low numeracy literacy can also avoid math skill development simply by careful selection of courses).  This phenomena is not unique to OSU…but nevertheless troublesome.

In order  to spur this conversation institutionally, exit writing samples of graduating students are needed.  We need  data (writing samples) that clearly illuminate the the wide variance in writing proficiency levels of graduating seniors.  This level of investigation could be done at any program level: embed a common writing prompt(with clear parameters) into a senior level course: collect student work and review it.  There are varying opinions on what the “parameters” are for a writing prompt.  Some folks argue students’ writing  samples must be “final copy” ( that is students have had the chance to use the writing process: pre-write, rewrite and final copy).  Others argue that a “true” example of writing proficiency must be an “on demand” writing sample, in which students are given a prompt in class and required to write their response during a set amount of time.  (Frankly, it would be interesting to do both and see how much variance occurs in ONE student between an on demand assignment and a revised and polished assignment. What reflections and insights might the student have about his/her own level of writing proficiency and his/her readiness for the work place?)

Common writing prompts can easily be embedded into a classes for the purpose of  gathering data.  For assistance with this you can contact the CTL, WIC, or Tim Jensen our on-campus writing specialist.

In the meantime, refer your students to the Writing Center, located in Waldo; students get free informed writing assistance and support there. (There is also a specialist in the Student Writing Center for second language writers, Galina Romantsova.)  Because writing is a skill, and requires consistent practice over time (like ANY OTHER skill) the sooner students start working with the Writing Center the greater the impact on their writing development.  Unfortunately students don’t understand the importance of continued writing practice as the writing center is always mobbed during week 10…rather than week 1 or 2.

The Center for Teaching and Learning has posted a few rubrics under the Resource Section for your use and as Vicki Tolar Burton (Director of the Writing Intensive Courses, reminds us that if  a course is designated as WIC, “…the writing standards should be fairly high, since this is where students are supposed to demonstrate their ability to write in the field or profession. “

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