College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


3 Comments

Malek and Micciche. What Can Faculty Do about Dual-Credit? WPA, Spring 2017. Posted 08/03/2017.

Malek, Joyce, and Laura R. Micciche. “A Model of Efficiency: Pre-College Credit and the State Apparatus.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 40.2 (2017): 77-97. Print.

Joyce Malek and Laura R. Micciche discuss the prevalence and consequences of dual and concurrent enrollment initiatives in universities and colleges as well as the effects of Advance Placement (AP) exemptions. They view these arrangements as symptoms of increased “managerial” control of higher education, resulting in an emphasis on efficiency and economics at the expense of learning (79).

As faculty at the University of Cincinnati, they recount the history of various dual-enrollment programs in Ohio. The state’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options program (PSEO), which originated in 1989, as of 2007 gave students as early as 9th and 10th grades the opportunity to earn both high school and college credits (81). A 2008 program, Seniors to Sophomores (STS), initiated by then-Governor Strickland, allowed high-school seniors to “spend their senior year on a participating Ohio college or university campus,” taking “a full load” for college credit (81-82).

After a poor response to STS from students who were unable or unwilling to dispense with a senior year at their regular high school, this program was eventually included in “College Credit Plus” (CCP), in which students beginning in grade seven can earn as many as 30 college credits yearly through courses taught at their high schools by high-school teachers. At the authors’ institution, records of applying students “are assessed holistically and are reviewed against a newly developed state benchmark” that declares them, in the words of the standard, to be “remediation free in a subject” (qtd. in Malek and Micciche 82). The authors state that they were “unable to trace the history of these standards” (83); they speculate that the language arose because students enrolling in the program had proved unable to succeed at college work (82).

Malek and Micciche report that these initiatives often required commitment from writing-program faculty; for example, writing faculty at their university were instructed, along with faculty from history, Spanish, French, and math, to develop programs certifying high-school teachers to teach college coursework (83). Writing faculty were given two weeks to provide this service, with no additional funding and without the ability to design curriculum. The initiative proved to include as well a range of additional unfunded duties, such as class observations and assessment (83-84).

The authors note that funding for all such initiatives is not guaranteed, suggesting that the programs may not survive. In contrast, they note, “AP [Advanced Placement] credit is institutionalized and is here to stay” (84).

The authors see AP as a means of achieving the managerial goals of the “technobureaucrats” (84, 90) increasingly in charge of higher education. They contend that a major objective of such policy makers is the development of a system that delivers students to the university system as efficiently as possible and at the lowest cost to the consumer (78-79). The authors recognize the importance of reducing the cost of higher education—they note that in-state students earning exemption through as many as 36 AP credits can save $11,000 a year in tuition, while out-of-state students can save up to $26, 334 (84). However, in their view, these savings, when applied to writing, come at the cost of both an opportunity to fully encounter the richness of writing as a means of communication and to acquire the kind of practice that results in a confident, capable writer who will succeed in complex academic and professional environments (87).

Malek and Micciche present their experience with AP to illustrate their claim that higher education has been taken out of the hands of faculty and programs and handed over to technocrats (85), a trend that they define as “an alarming statist creep” (85). In Ohio, communicating their intentions only to “staff not positioned to object,” such as advisors, the Board of Regents lowered the AP score deemed acceptable for exemption from a 4 to a 3 (78). This change, the authors write, was “not predicated . . . on any research whatsoever” (87). Its main purpose, in the authors’ view, was to channel students as quickly as possible into Ohio institutions and to reduce students’ actual investment in college to two years (79). Efforts to network in hopes of creating  “a cross-institutional objection to the change” came to naught (78).

Malek and Micciche document the growing incursion of AP into university programs by noting its rapid growth (88). Contending that few faculty know what is involved in AP scores, the authors question the ability of the AP organization to decide in what ways scores translate into “acceptable” coursework and note that to earn a score of 3, a student need correctly answer only “a little more than 50 percent” of the multiple choice questions on the exams (86).

Malek and Micciche express concern that the low status of first-year-composition as well as its nature as a required course makes it especially vulnerable to takeover by state and managerial forces (89-90). Such takeover results in the loss of faculty positions and illustrates the “limited rhetorical power” of writing professionals, who have not succeeded in finding a voice in policy decisions and find themselves in “a reactive stance” in which they ultimately enable the managerial agenda (88-89). They find it unlikely that proposals for enhancing the status of writing studies in general will speak to the economic goals of policy makers outside of the field (90).

Similarly, they contend that “refus[ing] to participate” in the development of dual-credit initiatives will not stem the tide of such programs (92). An alternative is to become deeply involved in making sure that training for teachers in AP or dual or concurrent enrollment programs is as rich and theoretically informed as possible (92).

As a more productive means of strengthening the rhetorical agency of writing faculty, Malek and Micciche suggest “coalition-building” across a wide range of stakeholders (90). They illustrate such coalition-building with other colleges by presenting their alliance with the university’s College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS) to design curricula to help students in CAHS courses improve as writers in their field (90-91). In their view, enlisting other disciplines in this way reinforces the importance of writing and should be seen “as a good thing” (91).

Also, noting that businesses spend “over 3 billion dollars annually to address writing deficiencies” (91), Malek and Micciche advocate for connections with local businesses, suggesting that managerial policy makers will be responsive to arguments about students’ need for “job readiness” (92).

Finally, they suggest enlisting students in efforts to lobby for the importance of college writing. They cite a study asking students to compare their AP courses with subsequent experiences in a required first-year-composition course. Results showed that the AP courses was not a substitute for the college course (93). To build this coalition with students, the authors advocate asking students about their needs and, in response, possibly imagining a “refashioned idea of FYC,” even if doing so means that “we might have to give up some of our most cherished beliefs and values and further build on our strengths” (93).


2 Comments

Hansen et al. Effectiveness of Dual Credit Courses. WPA Journal, Spring 2015. Posted 08/12/15.

Hansen, Kristine, Brian Jackson, Brett C. McInelly, and Dennis Eggett. “How Do Dual Credit Students Perform on College Writing Tasks After They Arrive on Campus? Empirical Data from a Large-Scale Study.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 38.2 (2015): 56-92). Print.

Kristine Hansen, Brian Jackson, Brett C. McInelly, and Dennis Eggett conducted a study at Brigham Young University (BYU) to determine whether students who took a dual-credit/concurrent-enrollment writing course (DC/CE) fared as well on the writing assigned in a subsequent required general-education course as students who took or were taking the university’s first-year-writing course. With few exceptions, Hansen et al. concluded that the students who had taken the earlier courses for their college credit performed similarly to students who had not. However, the study raised questions about the degree to which taking college writing in high school, or for that matter, in any single class, adequately meets the needs of maturing student writers (79).

The exigence for the study was the proliferation of efforts to move college work into high schools, presumably to allow students to graduate faster and thus lower the cost of college, with some jurisdictions allowing students as young as fourteen to earn college credit in high school (58). Local, state, and federal policy makers all support and even “mandate” such opportunities (57), with rhetorical and financial backing from organizations and non-profits promoting college credit as a boon to the overall economy (81). Hansen et al. express concern that no uniform standards or qualifications govern these initiatives (58).

The study examined writing in BYU’s “American Heritage” (AH) course. In this course, which in September 2012 enrolled approximately half of the first-year class, students wrote two 900-word papers involving argument and research. They wrote the first paper in stages with grades and TA feedback throughout, while they relied on peer feedback and their understanding of an effective writing process, which they had presumably learned in the first assignment, for the second paper (64). Hansen et al. provide the prompts for both assignments (84-87).

The study consisted of several components. Students in the AH course were asked to sign a consent form; those who did so were emailed a survey about their prior writing instruction. Of these, 713 took the survey. From these 713 students,189 were selected (60-61). Trained raters using a holistic rubric with a 6-point scale read both essays submitted by these 189 students. The rubric pinpointed seven traits: “thesis, critical awareness, evidence, counter-arguments, organization, grammar and style, sources and citations” (65). A follow-up survey assessed students’ experiences writing the second paper, while focus groups provided additional qualitative information. Hansen et al. note that although only eleven students participated in the focus groups, the discussion provided “valuable insights into students’ motivations for taking pre-college credit options and the learning experiences they had” (65).

The 189 participants fell into five groups: those whose “Path to FYW Credit” consisted of AP scores; those who received credit for a DC/CE option; those planning to take FYW in the future; those taking it concurrently with AH; and those who had taken BYU’s course, many of them in the preceding summer (61, 63). Analysis reveals that the students studied were a good match in such categories as high-school GPA and ACT scores for the full BYU first-year population (62). However, strong high-school GPAs and ACT scores and evidence of regular one-on-one interaction with instructors (71), coupled with the description of BYU as a “private institution” with “very selective admission standards” (63) indicate that the students studied, while coming from many geographic regions, were especially strong students whose experiences could not be generalized to different populations (63, 82).

Qualitative results indicated that, for the small sample of students who participated in the focus group, the need to “get FYW out of the way” was not the main reason for choosing AP or DC/CE options. Rather, the students wanted “a more challenging curriculum” (69). These students reported good teaching practices; in contrast to the larger group taking the earlier survey, who reported writing a variety of papers, the students in the focus group reported a “literature[-]based” curriculum with an emphasis on timed essays and fewer research papers (69). Quotes from the focus-group students who took the FYW course from BYU reveal that they found it “repetitive” and “a good refresher,” not substantially different despite their having reported an emphasis on literary analysis in the high-school courses (72). The students attested that the earlier courses had prepared them well, although some expressed concerns about their comfort coping with various aspects of the first-year experience (71-72).

Three findings invited particular discussion (73):

  • Regardless of the writing instruction they had received, the students differed very little in their performance in the American Heritage class;
  • In general, although their GPAs and test scores indicated that they should be superior writers, the students scored in the center of the 6-point rubric scale, below expectations;
  • Scores were generally higher for the first essay than for the second.

The researchers argue that the first finding does not provide definitive evidence as to whether “FYW even matters” (73). They cite research by numerous scholars that indicates that the immediate effects of a writing experience are difficult to measure because the learning of growing writers does not exhibit a “tidy linear trajectory” (74). The FYW experience may trigger “steps backward” (Nancy Sommers, qtd. in Hansen et al. 72). The accumulation of new knowledge, they posit, can interfere with performance. Therefore, students taking FYW concurrently with AH might have been affected by taking in so much new material (74), while those who had taken the course in the summer had significantly lower GPAs and ACT scores (63). The authors suggest that these factors may have skewed the performance of students with FYW experience.

The second finding, the authors posit, similarly indicates students in the early-to-middle stages of becoming versatile, effective writers across a range of genres. Hansen et al. cite research on the need for a “significant apprenticeship period” in writing maturation (76). Students in their first year of college are only beginning to negotiate this developmental stage.

The third finding may indicate a difference in the demands of the two prompts, a difference in the time and energy students could devote to later assignments, or, the authors suggest, the difference in the feedback built into the two papers (76-77).

Hansen et al. recommend support for the NCTE position that taking a single course, especially at an early developmental stage, does not provide students an adequate opportunity for the kind of sustained practice across multiple genres required for meaningful growth in writing (77-80). Decisions about DC/CE options should be based on individual students’ qualifications (78); programs should work to include additional writing courses in the overall curriculum, designing these courses to allow students to build on skills initiated in AP, DC/CE, and FYW courses (79).

They further recommend that writing programs shift from promising something “new” and “different” to an emphasis on the recursive, nonlinear nature of writing, clarifying to students and other stakeholders the value of ongoing practice (80). Additionally, they recommend attention to the motives and forces of the “growth industry” encouraging the transfer of more and more college credit to high schools (80). The organizations sustaining this industry, they write, hope to foster a more literate, capable workforce. But the authors contend that speeding up and truncating the learning process, particularly with regard to a complex cognitive task like writing, undercut this aim (81-82) and do not, in fact, guarantee faster graduation (79). Finally, citing Richard Haswell, they call for more empirical, replicable studies of phenomena like the effects of DC/CE courses in order to document their impact across broad demographics (82).