WPE results continue positive trend

The fall 2014 writing proficiency exam pass rate of 76 percent represents a continuation of improved student performance on the exam and is satisfactory, according to Associate Professor of Writing and Literature Tyrone Shaw, who is also the Writing Proficiency Exam administrator.
“We’re doing better in the expository writing program here,” said Shaw, “and we’re improving the skills students need to be effective advocates in their life.”

While pass rates have been higher, for example in fall 2012 and 2013 the pass rates were 79 percent, overall, the trend has been positive, especially looking at statistics covering the last eight years. “In 2008 to 2010, the pass rates were consistently lower,” said Shaw, noting they were generally in the mid sixties.

Shaw attributes the higher pass rates to several factors.  Linking the exam more closely to Exposition and Analysis is a major one. “After tying the exam more closely to the Exposition  and Analysis course, we noted an upward trend,” said Shaw.

Also important, he said, have been efforts within the department to standardize to some degree the multiple sections delivering the course. “There’s a natural affinity between the skills required for the exam and the course itself, which focuses on the discipline of argument and persuasion,” said Shaw. “It’s important that students be taught those skills, regardless of the section.”

Shaw offers eight or ten preparation sessions each semester before the exam. “I think more students are going to the prep sessions now.  I’ve noticed a definite increase in the past few semesters of the number of students availing themselves of this service,” he said.

On the negative side, Shaw said that while the number is decreasing,  too many students still are waiting until their senior  year to take the exam, successful completion of which is a requirement for graduation.

“It hurts my brain just trying to comprehend how this can happen when we are hammering the students for three years to take the exam,” said Shaw, who noted that linking Expo and Analysis to the exam is meant to encourage students to take the exam earlier. “We’re tying this to Expo… and collectively using positive incentives to take the test while they (students) are in Expo, and that has made a difference,” said Shaw, “But unfortunately, the problem persists.

Students who fail the exam can choose to take it again the following semester or enroll in Self Sufficient Writer, successful completion of which provides an alternative way of meeting the VSC–mandated graduation requirement.  “Students need to know, however, that to take Self Sufficient Writer, they must have failed the Writing Proficiency Exam,” said Shaw. “You have to actually take the exam, not just register for it and not show.”

A change he said he hopes to institute in the spring will be faster processing of the exam. “It’s still taking far too long to get the results,” said Shaw. “This fall we did better – it was like three weeks – but this could be done in one day. Not the calculations or the clerical work, but the actual grading if all six readers were to sit down at the same time in the same place.  We need to have these grades in prior to spring registration, and that has not been the case.”