After taking the Writing Proficiency Exam freshman year and watching friends anxiously prepare every single semester since, I’ve come to one conclusion: the WPE as a graduation standard should not exist.
A university having to ask its students to take a test to prove they can write an essay is incredibly contrived for several reasons.
One, if a student gets into college, the least they should be able to do is argue one point in an essay– isn’t that what they did in their college entrance application? If they can’t do that, they should at least know how to do it by the time they graduate. If they still cannot pass the WPE, then we have failed that student both as a community and as an academic institution that purports to hold to certain standards.
Two, asking students to take yet another useless test adds to stress levels when those same students could be focusing on other, more important academic standards, like keeping grades up and focusing on academic extracurriculars. Just like the NECAPs, the WPE is an example of a useless test to “prove” that a student is worthy of graduation. Why not let the students’ grades speak for themselves.
Students who reasonably pass College Writing and Expo and Analysis should be sufficient essay writers, well-versed in crafting argumentative prose. If they aren’t, that’s a multifaceted failure that extends beyond a “graduation standard” and into educational priorities.
I am not suggesting that we let students who struggle with writing flounder. Rather, I’m suggesting that we change the way we pipeline students from one English class to the next, giving professors and coaches the ability to work with students to help them succeed. Everyone’s success in writing is massively different– what looks to you like a jumbled, confusing piece of work may be a masterpiece in its own right.
The Writing Proficiency Exam is residual, vestigial symptom of a supervising body that doesn’t allow room for individuality. If you put students through a meat grinder, they’re all going to come out looking the same. If we give professors and students more opportunities to establish comptency individually, we create a greater sense of community across the board.
If remedial work is required, so be it– don’t ask a fish to climb a tree and let it fail the exam, simply because your standards don’t fit its needs.