Writing Exams

The Shadow Scholar is a Chronicle of Higher Ed article purportedly written by a ghostwriter for hire who has created theses and dissertations, as well as hundreds of run-of-the-mill term papers.

I may write about that in some other post, or not, but comment 195 caught my attention and I thought it was worth writing about here. (Perhaps a later commenter mentions it. I don’t know. I stopped at 195 to write this post.)

Here is the pertinent section of comment 195:


On another matter: the unedited student emails in “Dante’s” article, with their egregious problems with idiom and verb management, strongly suggest that a lot of these ghostwriting requests come from ESL/ESOL students, for whom writing fluent, near-native English is a problem, and for whom plagiarism and other forms of cheating are less of an issue in their home countries than here. This possibiliity suggests a need to administer on-grounds language proficiency examinations for all international and domestic students for whom English is not the first language and get those who need it into English remediation courses as a first order of business.

I am struggling with how to address this comment, though I have a lot of points.

Purdue University, where I received my PhD, had just this kind of writing exam. They only administered it to foreign students.

Local SLAC used to have an English entrance requirement for all their students who did not take freshman composition there. However, there was no mechanism to force the students to take it immediately and so sometimes graduating seniors were taking–and failing–it. This forced/encouraged the administration to drop it, even though it showed that the likelihood of those students having graduated without someone like Dante’s (see article mentioned above) creative connivance. Now there is no requirement for English ability.

FinalCC, the college I teach at now, could really benefit from a writing component or writing test like this one. However, I would suggest/petition that it be a placement exam for all entrants rather than just ESL. I think many of our students, coming in from area high schools, are singularly unprepared for writing.

2 thoughts on “Writing Exams”

  1. Through my wife’s role as an administrator, I see this problem as huge–and am amazed (so much so that I had to go back and check the date on this blog!) that this blog seems to address this issue in such a rudimentary way.

    Developmental reading and writing courses and entrance exams present an enormous conundrum for community colleges located in disadvantaged regions. My wife says that the biggest problem is that many entering students who cannot read or write well enough to complete Freshman Composition require intense attention because they need to overcome whatever the reason is that left them insufficiently skilled. Often that reason is a poor high school system (with respect to the younger students ) and/or personal problems (with the more adult students).

    But not only do these students not receive the intensity of help they require to overcome their histories, what “help” they get comes from adjuncts and others who are the least qualified and the least experienced to recognize, cope with, and teach such students effctively. I heard on NPR recently, in fact, that 7 out of 10 community college students do not graduate or transfer. That’s a lot of taxpayer money getting wasted, too.

    However, “losing” these individuals is far more important than losing money, but this is not being addressed. Instead, the exams are being watered down, teachers are being encouraged (and sometimes even forced) to teach for the test (rather than teaching for success, such as in critical thinking and synthesis), and students with learning disabilities, ESL and low-IQ (I don’t recall the correct term to use there–I don’t mean to be disparaging) are treated no differently than those who are undermotivated (including the inevitable drug and behavioral problems).

    When I hear about this stuff, it seems insane to me. How can you teach 15-20 students when half don’t even bother to show up, others get up and walk out whenever they feel like it, some sleep or act otherwise disrespectful, but the teacher is unable to firmly curtail such issues because keeping the headcount up is his or her first mandate–and keeping student complaints from showing up in Dean and Chair’s offices is their second mandate? At my wife’s institution, teachers are encouraged to point students toward tutors and other assistance that is available beyond the classroom teacher, but very few students are willing to take the extra time such extra attention requires of them. And yet they NEED that extra attention.

    I swear: I can’t believe that I hear, but I hear it so much and so consistently (not just from my wife, but the colleagues of hers whom I meet), that I am very saddened by and very worried about it–even more so given that I myself majored in English as an undergrad, way back when.

  2. I am unsure why you thought it was necessary to say that this blog is dealing with the issue “in such a rudimentary way.” By its very nature a blog post deals with only one aspect of a question at a time. This is not an extended academic essay and I was only responding to the point of entrance exams for entering underprepared students.

    After eight years (two ft) as an adjunct and as a ft contingent faculty now, I certainly do know that adjuncts often are teaching the freshman.

    I am appalled, however, at your characterization of adjuncts as perennially unprepared and inexperienced. I have a PhD in rhetoric and composition from Purdue University. I taught for four years ft in a tt position before I quit to stay home with my children. I am not unprepared nor inexperienced. I am not the only one either. Many adjuncts, particularly in this horrible market, are PhDs. Many others who do not have their PhDs are high school teachers teaching a course or two. They certainly have experience.

    Yes, there are occasionally adjuncts who should not be teaching; in those cases the administrators should get them out of the classrooms. One or two class sessions attended would clearly indicate to the admin which faculty were not meeting their responsibilities.

    Entrance exam
    I think that you did not understand my point in the post. I was suggesting in this post that all students, not simply ESL students, should be given an English-language entrance requirement. My native English-speaking from the inner city do not write English well enough to pass a freshman composition course. A written essay as part of the initial placement process would be very useful.

    Graduation percentages
    The point of 7 out of 10 not graduating from CC is not necessarily a bad percentage. If the students are not mentally capable or emotionally devoted to an academic education, why is it necessary that they graduate? Do we want students to graduate simply because they started college?

    Many students at the CCs in this area come for a certificate, which does not count as “graduation,” in things like law enforcement, EMT, and culinary arts. They never intended to get a degree and they did not. I don’t see a problem with that.

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