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CASLL-L  January 1995

CASLL-L January 1995

Subject:

Re: Testing: Untold Stories

From:

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Date:

Wed, 4 Jan 1995 16:21:58 -0500

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In response to Doug Brent's sad tale of testing, I'd like to tell a bit of the current story about Writing Across the Curriculum/Langue Integre au Programme at Laurentian.  At the moment, some faculty (especially me) and the Director of our Language Centre (Normand Fortin) are trying to reduce the prominence of Laurentian's generic "Writing Competency Test" to the WAC program -- but not quickly, since we know that the test is read by many as an appropriate, tangible sign of Launrentian's commitment to improving (i.e. measuring)  student writing.

Although this essay test historically provided the "grain of sand" for the pearl of WAC, it has entailed various predictable problems for the development of WAC. At the most pragmatic level, it channels scarce resources away from the development of existing and new WAC courses (e.g., it costs a lot to put on and it demands commitments from faculty for exhausting holistic-scoring sessions twice a year).  More problematically, the test obviously conflicts with several key principles of WAC and curreent writing theory -- e.g., that writing is discipline or discourse-community specific, that writing is a lenghthy recursive process, that writing is a method of thinking and learning, etc.  Because WAC courses were initially set up as a solution, or remedy, to the problem of poor student writing, most students and some faculty understandably perceive WAC courses as primarily remedial or basic writing courses, rather than as courses which fully integrate writing as a fundamental mode of learning.

The current official policy is that sutdents may only enrol in a WAC course after writing the test -- which means that students who score a 1 can avoid WAC courses altogether if they wish, because they are considered to have successfully completed the writing competency requirement.  Needless to say, this policy emphasizes the primacy of the test and helps to promote the perception of WAC courses as remedial.  In the near future, the main change that Normand and I (and some other faculty as well) would like to implement is to change the policy so that students may enrol in WAc courses whether or not they have written the test and, most importantly, to remove the September session of the test (keeping only an April session).  In this way, new students will be encouraged to enrol in WAC courses right away and will not be faced with a stressful test the moment they arrive at the university.  If they perform well in a WAC course, they will not have to take the test at all.

Ideally, I would like to see the test disappear altogether AND the system of scoring for writing competency which currently operates in WAC courses.  But institutions being what they are, I doubt that will happen in the near future.

Philippa
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