Panel Paper: Writing Proficiency and Student Placement in Community College Composition Courses

Friday, April 12, 2019
Continuing Education Building - Room 2030 (University of California, Irvine)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jane S. Nazzal, Carol Olson and Huy Chung, University of California, Irvine

Against the backdrop of extensive reform efforts which seek to accelerate students through precollegiate writing courses and into transfer-level English (and even, in some instances, to entirely eliminate precollegiate course sequences), the purpose of this presentation is to present the findings of a study that was designed to examine the level of writing proficiency of students who have been placed into various course levels under a specific placement policy.

In the interest of knowing if the placement process at a particular college, which results in students placed into four distinct levels of composition courses is justified, the study addresses the question: How do students placed in four levels of composition courses differ in their academic writing performance? Furthermore, to examine whether high school GPA is a good indicator of student placement level and/or student writing proficiency, another point of inquiry is: What relationship is there, if any, between students’ course level, high school GPA, and their academic writing performance?

A text-based analytical writing assessment was administered to students across four levels of composition courses. Differences in student writing scores between course levels and the relationship between writing score, course level, and high school GPA were examined.

Key findings include: 1) significant differences in average scores between the first pre-collegiate course and other courses in the sequence and 2) weak relationships between high school GPA and course level and high school GPA and assessment scores.

The findings of this study confirm the potentially positive impact of certain reform efforts effecting the placement of students into community college composition courses while cautioning about overly broad implementation of those efforts that may place some students (the most disadvantaged in terms of writing proficiency) at further disadvantage.

These results can help to inform appropriate student placement under various placement policies and to help clarify distinctions between students who are deemed underprepared and those who are considered ready for college-level coursework.

The presenter will share the study’s purpose, methodology, and results and will discuss implications of the results for appropriate placement of students into community college composition courses.