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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Writing Intensive Assessment Report

Page address: http://english.mnsu.edu/vwp/wiar.htm

Writing Intensive Assessment Report

The goals and objectives for W courses meeting requirements of Category 1c in MSU's General Education program are as follows:

Writing Intensive Course Goals and Objectives

Goal: Students will continue to develop skills taught in Composition, applying them in the context of a particular discipline.

Students will be able to

  • use writing to explore and gain a basic familiarity with the questions, values and analytical or critical thinking methods used in the discipline;
  • locate, analyze, evaluate, and use source material or data in their writing in a manner appropriate to intended audiences (popular or within the discipline).

Executive Summary, WI Assessment Report, 2006

The Executive Summary is below. View the full report here [PDF 141KB].

Assessment of General Education Category 1c: Writing Intensive took place during 2006-2007. The General Education Category Course Instructor Group (GECCIG), which conducted the assessment, was genuinely concerned and disappointed at the lack of quality in the samples read. The GECCIG determined that MSU students in 1c courses are, by and large, not succeeding at "college-level" writing.

Category 1c was first assessed in 2001-2002, and the second assessment generally followed the procedures and recommended changes from the first assessment. A random selection of 104 student essays was collected during Fall semester from the seventy-six sections of 1c courses offered; the degree of cooperation from departments offering 1c courses was high. The GECCIG was convened in January, 2007. The members discussed and revised the rubric, were trained in the rubric, practiced scoring some of the collected student essays, and when the members felt reasonably well calibrated, particularly while scoring essays outside their individual disciplinary areas, they scored a sample (45) of the essays collected.

The goals and objectives of Category 1c, which is MSU's addition to the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, are as follows:

Part C: Writing Intensive
Goal: Students will continue to develop skills taught in Composition, applying them in the context of a particular discipline.

Students will be able to

  • use writing to explore and gain a basic familiarity with the questions, values and analytical or critical thinking methods used in the discipline;
  • locate, analyze, evaluate, and use source material or data in their writing in a manner appropriate to intended audiences (popular or within the discipline).

In keeping with these objectives, the GECCIG scored each student essay on three measures: Organization and Development, Supporting Evidence, and Writing Skills. The previous 1c assessment GECCIG recommended revising the rubric to a 4-point scale, which was done (click here for the rubric). A score of 1 indicated a lack of skills (Beginning); a score of 2 the presence of some skills, but still missing essentials (Developing); a score of 3 solid possession of the basics (Accomplished), and a score of 4 confidence and superior application (Exemplar). Each essay was scored by two raters on this four point scale for the three measures. If the scores of the raters varied by more than one point (e.g., a 1 and a 3) on any of the three measures, a third reader re-scored the essay on all three measures.

The sample of student essays scored represented the general distribution of all essays collected, which is to say, equal parts Biology; English and Humanities; and other courses from Allied Health and Nursing, Arts and Humanities, Education, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. The previous GECCIG noted a wide disparity of kinds of writing in their sample; the present GECCIG received the desired concentration in final drafts (as opposed to journals and in-process writing). Nonetheless, it seemed to the raters that there was a disparity in the level of revision. A further unavoidable problem noted by the current GECCIG as well as the previous one was that raters felt "stretched" when "outside their academic area." GECCIG members from Biology and Philosophy gave a short course to the other raters on such matters as the conventions for content in various parts of a lab report, what constitutes evidence, and how a writer conventionally deals with anomalous or contrary findings.

The average scores on the three measures are as follows:

Writing Area Assessed Mean S.D.
Organization and Development 2.14 0.79
Supporting Evidence 2.01 0.79
Writing Skills 2.33 0.70
Average 2.15 0.79

All of these scores are in the lower half of the "developing" range (score of 2), which is to say, missing some essential elements. In the Organization and Development measure, only 45% of essays contained a sufficiently specific organizing thesis with well-developed supporting points that demonstrate familiarity with disciplinary methods or values (a score of 3 or higher). On the Supporting Evidence measure, only 31% demonstrated college-level skills in using evidence to support their points (a score of 3 or higher). In Writing Skills, 48% demonstrated command of academic writing conventions and addressed audience needs for context, purpose, and direction. The complete report summarizes in more detail the scores in each of these areas.

It is to be emphasized that the committee understands that "college level" writing represents a quantum leap from high school writing in terms of a student's individual responsibility to manage the writing task, to conduct appropriate research, to analyze and evaluate sources, and to use them productively to make independent arguments. And the student's general skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking must all develop further in the more specialized contexts of disciplinary knowledge. Our writing-intensive requirement sets high expectations by asking students to write for a specific audience, taking into account the values and methods of reasoning used in the course, a valuable skill that is said to distinguish college-level writing. If it can be assumed that students make significant gains in developing writing skills after they finish writing intensive courses, maybe by the time they graduate they would be prepared to write in subsequent careers and future study. But students will certainly not be prepared if they graduate with this level of skills. The results were so consistently under expectations—(only two essays received even 3 (of a possible 6) scores of 4, the highest score) that the committee felt—to a person—that a systematic revision of the way in which we conceptualize and deliver writing instruction is in order.

Accordingly, the committee makes the following recommendations:

  1. The writing intensive requirement should be restructured into a three tier approach:
    • English 101 should be a pre- or a co-requisite for writing-intensive courses, as is implied in the goal statement.
    • One writing-intensive course should remain a general education requirement.
    • The second writing-intensive course requirement should be shifted to a graduation requirement. These requirements should be fulfilled in upper division courses in the major or in advanced writing courses selected by the major to fulfill this purpose.
  2. There should be training and incentives—including course caps of 15 as recommended by the Association of Departments of English (ADE) and a load-multiplier (4 credits in load for a 3-credit course)—for teachers of writing-intensive courses. Training should include discussion of the rubric as well as course materials and methods, particularly methods to improve revision.
  3. Writing Intensive courses should be part of a university-wide commitment to excellence in writing that should include a well-supported, university-wide Writing Center and more systematic attention to differing writing and language-learning problems of students, including placement; allowing the combination of English 100 and 101 to count for the general education writing component of 1c as well as the current combination of 101 and a writing intensive course; and other improvements as suggested by a newly convened advisory group, including CAS, LLAS, other faculty and representatives from relevant recruiting, retention, and student support groups.
  4. The GECCIG Assessment Process should continue to be updated. The final report details several suggestions for publicizing and collecting data.

Submitted by:
GECCIG 1c, 2006-2007
Cathryn Bailey, Philosophy
Bill Dyer, English
Kellian Clink, Library
Gretta Handke, History
Anne O'Meara, English
Bob Sorensen, Biology

See also Assessing Writing.