Thinking about Developmental Writing

I am teaching three Developmental Writing classes this semester. I will be teaching three again in the spring. This is a joy to me, since I want to teach developmental students. It is also a frustration to me, since I am not sure I know the best way to teach them.

I am going to really have to work on this.

An interesting literature review (in Measuring the Effectiveness of Developmental Writing Courses showed up in a search I was doing.

Studies on the effectiveness of basic writing programs have concluded overall that these programs are effective. Three such studies, by Stein (1982) at Minnesota Community College, by Ragland (1997) at Central Missouri State University, and by Weissman et al. (1997) at the College of Lake County (a community college in Chicago), concluded that students who completed developmental skills courses were more likely to succeed in college-level writing classes than were students who did not complete preparatory work. Glau (1996) reported that developmental courses that focused on grammar at Arizona State University were ineffective but that an extended developmental program that concentrated on writing did prepare students for success in Composition I.

Researchers have also concluded that developmental courses should be required and not optional when students fall below the cut-off score on placement exams (Berger, 1997; Weissman et al., 1997). However, placement tests can be imperfect tools, even when content validity has been achieved (Schmitz & delMas, 1991). Schmitz and delMas (1991) noted that while a test’s content validity is essential, decisions based on the test must also prove to be accurate. If a test facilitates accurate decisions about placement, students who score low but do not take developmental classes will not do as well academically as their counterparts who receive remediation, and retention will be higher for students who need and receive preparatory work before college classes (Schmitz & delMas, 1991). McCormick and McCormick’s 1986 study of students in developmental writing classes at Eastern Illinois University addressed the correlation between the students’ placement scores and their future academic success in all their other classes. Comparing developmental students to non-developmental students, the researchers found no significant difference in the areas of credits earned, graduation rates, and grades earned in college-level writing courses. However, those developmental students with lower placement scores had lower GPAs and were more likely to be placed on academic probation than were students with higher placement scores.

It seems to me that if the program is successful, students who complete developmental courses OUGHT to do better than students who placed at the same level but did not. I do wonder why the students who were not in the courses got around the requirement though.

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