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Success in Writing

by Denise Runge, UAA Provost  |   

For my first post written for the new blog, I wanted to share some very exciting results from a pilot project that has been over two years in the making.

Higher education professionals know that a single standardized test score is a flawed measure of student achievement and often disadvantages students from underserved groups. Yet when it comes to writing placement, most large universities rely heavily on a placement exam to determine a student’s first writing class. For many years, UAA did exactly that, relying mainly on Accuplacer for writing placement. But in recent years, faculty in the Community and Technical College (CTC) Department of Writing have adopted a more nuanced, multiple measures approach to placement, that includes having students whose test scores do not squarely place them in a particular class submit a writing sample. The goal is to provide a more comprehensive and personalized approach to writing placement. 

The writing samples are proctored by First Year Advisors and scored by Writing faculty. Although this approach is more costly and takes a bit more time, it is clearly paying off for UAA students. Between Spring 2018 and Spring 2020 about 400 students completed a writing sample; roughly 70% of these students were placed into a class higher than their Accuplacer score suggested. Even better -- students who were placed into their first UAA WRTG class using a writing sample passed that class at a significantly higher rate (79%) than those placed using Accuplacer alone (72%). This likelihood of upward placement also is saving students time money - so far about a quarter of a million in tuition dollars.

The writing faculty have also piloted, and are now scaling up, an accelerated learning program (ALP) at the WRTG A110 (pre-GER) and WRTG A111 (GER) level. These courses allow eligible students, as determined through writing samples, to move up a course level with a corequisite support lab taught by the same instructor.  This competitive five credit program is designed for highly motivated students with the ability to devote the two additional credit hours each week to their writing course. In our recent analysis of these initiatives, we can confirm their positive impact on student success. As the graph below shows, students who took a 5 credit WRTG ALP course are significantly more likely to pass that course than students taking WRTG A110, where the ALP students placed, or WRTG A111. It also saves the student one semester and about $500 (the two credits they do not have to pay for). Similar gains are seen for students taking a WRTG A110 ALP course, as shown in the graph below.

Passing Course Grade

Finally, faculty in the departments of Writing and Quantitative studies in CTC and the department of Mathematics and Statistics in CAS continue to design revolutionary improvements to UAA course placement in collaboration with student success and first year advising. They have designed a course matching survey to better determine a student’s first math and writing course and their candidacy for acceleration based upon their academic background, test scores, and level of confidence. Currently in the first phase, the outcomes of the course matching survey are yet to be determined; however, over 800 students have completed it since April 2020, giving first year advisors a much fuller picture of a student’s readiness in writing and math.

There is much to celebrate at UAA, even in the midst of an unprecedented year for our university and for higher education at large.  Join me in celebrating these significant accomplishments in student success!

Accuplacer for Placement
Accuplacer for Placement