Assessing the Effectiveness of a Basic Writing Course

Assessing the Effectiveness of a Basic Writing Course

Barika Barboza (City University of New York, USA) and Frances Singh (City University of New York, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-667-9.ch015
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This chapter describes an outcomes assessment study completed in a basic composition course at a small urban open admissions community college. The course was a pilot course designed in response to marginally remedial performance on a standardized writing instrument and solidly exempted performance on the standardized reading instrument. This chapter takes its readers from process to product, exploring both the collaboration between administration and faculty as well as the steps involved in assessing student learning. Specifically discussed is how data was used to guide decision making about curricular change on our campus. At different moments, this assessment study highlights a success story, red flags areas of weakness and suggests future courses of action and research.
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In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education reported that over 40% of first-year students at public two-year colleges place into remedial courses. At Hostos Community College/CUNY, that percentage is even higher because it draws its student body from one of the poorest Congressional districts in the nation and serves students who have historically had limited access to higher education. Data collected by the Office of Institutional Research indicates that about 90% of its student body requires remediation in one of the following areas: writing, reading, math. To meet this remediation crisis, Hostos has offered courses in remedial writing, reading, and math since its founding 40 years ago. Particularly since 1999, when CUNY mandated an institution-wide policy that charged its two-year campuses with the task of offering remedial coursework for underprepared students, Hostos has offered even more sections and a variety of organized interventions to supplement them.1

While the expansion of remedial courses can be looked at negatively, to indicate how many students are educationally underprepared for college-level work, these same courses can also be seen positively, as a heroic effort by community colleges to rise to the challenge of making the educational system finally work for this population. However, developing courses is not in itself a sufficient response to the problem. Consider the following example from Act III of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I.

Glendower. I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur. Why, so can I, or so can any man;

But will they come when you do call for them? (p. 1222)

As the lines makes clear, Hotspur deflates Glendower’s boast that he can conjure spirits by remarking that anyone can conjure spirits. The real sign of success, Hotspur argues, is in the effectiveness of the conjuring—whether or not the spirits come when they are called. By the same token, until and unless the effectiveness of the courses has been determined through assessment, their worth, like Glendower’s ability to call spirits, is debatable.



In response to Glendower’s boast, Hotspur asked him, “But will they [the spirits] come when you do call for them?” To assess the effectiveness of a remedial course, it is also necessary to ask questions, the two most important being the following.

  • 1.

    Do remedial courses give students the academic skills necessary to perform satisfactorily in college-level courses?

  • 2.

    Do students who take remedial courses persist?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Accountability: Accountability is the commitment of a program or organization to be forthcoming with the way that it is meeting its outlined goals.

Note: Many of these definitions are derived from those found in the online Dictionary of Student Outcome Assessment put out by James Madison University [].

Placement Exams: Placement exams refer to the screening instruments used to determine if students’ qualifications for entering a program or course are at an appropriate level to begin their studies. These instruments are generally administered to students as part of the freshman registration process.

Basic Writer: The Basic Writer is a student whose writing manifests problems in organization, development and expressiveness; his/her problems are traditionally addressed in a one-semester developmental writing course preceding Freshman Composition.

Outcomes Assessment: Outcomes Assessment is the process of systematically collecting, describing or quantifying information about student performance related to learning outcomes at the course, program and institutional level.

Marginally Remedial, Solidly Exempted: These terms frame a subset of the Basic Writer population. This cohort failed the Writing assessment test by one point; however, they passed the Reading assessment test by ten or more points. Thus, they straddle the boundary between remedial and college-level courses.

Remedial Student: A remedial student is a student who does not meet criteria that would allow h/her to enter into college level classes.

Effectiveness: Effectiveness refers to desirable change in performance, be it student or institutional performance. It is measured through the data gathered by the instruments used to collect information on student learning and development.

Attrition: Attrition refers to the loss of students through means other than graduation.

Feedback Loop: According to Wehlberg, “the feedback loop is the process by which outcomes are developed, measures are identified, data is collected, and then that data is used to inform the process, and it begins again with another look at the outcomes” (p. 10).

Freshman Composition: In Freshman Composition, students read and respond to texts representing various rhetorical modes so as to improve their writing, revising and editing skills.

Pilot Course: A pilot course is an experimental course that modifies an existing course. The modifications usually involve changes in the existing course’s curriculum and/or format or mode of delivery. A pilot course can be offered for several semesters after which it is either dropped or instated as a formal course offering of the institution.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Christopher S. Schreiner
Christopher S. Schreiner
Chapter 1
Melissa A. Dyehouse, John Y. Baek, Richard A. Lesh
This chapter describes a model for evaluating complex organizations or systems. The design assessment model the authors propose is a response to... Sample PDF
Multi-Tier Design Assessment in the Development of Complex Organizational Systems
Chapter 2
Hedva Lewittes
In this chapter critical thinking is assessed using two critical thinking learning outcomes that were required for the State University of New... Sample PDF
A Critical Thinking Rubric as the Basis of Assessment and Curriculum
Chapter 3
Suzanne Pieper, Erika Edwards, Brandon Haist, Walter Nolan
The purpose of this chapter is to review literature over the past ten years regarding technology tools that are being used in higher education to... Sample PDF
A Survey of Effective Technologies to Assess Student Learning
Chapter 4
John Baer, Sharon S. McKool
The Consensual Assessment Technique is a powerful tool used by creativity researchers in which panels of expert judges are asked to rate the... Sample PDF
Assessing Creativity Using the Consensual Assessment Technique
Chapter 5
Christine Charyton, Zorana Ivcevic, Jonathan A. Plucker, James C. Kaufman
This chapter discusses creativity assessment as a means for evaluating skills required in higher education. Creativity is assessed in the context of... Sample PDF
Creativity Assessment in Higher Education
Chapter 6
Asao B. Inoue
This chapter articulates writing assessment as a technology, theorized with three aspects (power, parts, and purpose), accounting for the ways in... Sample PDF
The Technology of Writing Assessment and Racial Validity
Chapter 7
Sheila S. Thompson, Annemarie Vaccaro
The purpose of this chapter is to address epistemological and methodological approaches to assessing assessment. The authors’ intent is to show how... Sample PDF
Qualitative and Quantitative Methods as Complementary Assessment Tools
Chapter 8
Teresa Flateby
The development of the Cognitive Level and Quality of Writing Assessment online system is described in this chapter. Beginning with needs identified... Sample PDF
Effects of Assessment Results on a Writing and Thinking Rubric
Chapter 9
Barbara D’Angelo, Barry Maid
Outcomes-based assessment provides data for programs to demonstrate student learning as a result of their enrollment in the program and to assess... Sample PDF
Assessing Outcomes in a Technical Communication Capstone
Chapter 10
Sonya Borton, Alanna Frost, Kate Warrington
As Jacqueline Jones Royster articulated at the 2006 Conference on College Composition and Communication, English departments are already assessing... Sample PDF
Assessing the Composition Program on Our Own Terms
Chapter 11
Joan Aitken
This chapter uses a case study to exemplify one approach to assessment of three instructional delivery formats: (a) online, (b) distance, satellite... Sample PDF
A Case Study of Instructional Delivery Formats
Chapter 12
Victor W. Brunsden
The author present a case-study of a classroom technique that allows assessment and some remediation of several shortcomings of college student... Sample PDF
Inverting the Remedial Mathematics Classroom with Alternative Assessment
Chapter 13
David A. Eubanks
This chapter describes Coker College’s subjective performance assessment program to rate student thinking and communication skills. It uses a... Sample PDF
A Case Study of Authentic Assessment
Chapter 14
P. Tokyo Kang, David Gugin
This chapter reports an outcomes assessment study conducted at the University of Guam. The assessment project was conducted during the 2006-07 and... Sample PDF
Outcomes Assessment in Japanese Language Instruction
Chapter 15
Barika Barboza, Frances Singh
This chapter describes an outcomes assessment study completed in a basic composition course at a small urban open admissions community college. The... Sample PDF
Assessing the Effectiveness of a Basic Writing Course
Chapter 16
Lorraine Gilpin, Yasar Bodur, Kathleen Crawford
Peer assessment holds tremendous potential to positively impact the development of preservice teachers. The purpose of this chapter is to describe... Sample PDF
Peer Assessment for Development of Preservice Teachers
Chapter 17
Charlotte Brammer, Rhonda Parker
In 2002, Samford University began working on a long-term learning assessment plan designed to evaluate its undergraduates’ competencies in written... Sample PDF
Workshops and E-Portfolios as Transformational Assessment
Chapter 18
Daniel F. Chambliss
This chapter describes how the trend favoring assessment initiatives of a system-wide scope such as program review and collegiate learning... Sample PDF
A Neglected Necessity in Liberal Arts Assessment: The Student as the Unit of Analysis
Chapter 19
Deirdre Pettipiece, Timothy Ray, Justin Everett
Perhaps due to its applicability as a performance of skill sets in virtually all disciplines, writing as a mechanism for measuring student success... Sample PDF
Redefining Writing Reality Multi-Modal Writing and Assessment
Chapter 20
Sean A. McKitrick
This chapter introduces methods that can be used to engage faculty in the assessment process, working within a shared governance structure in... Sample PDF
Engaging Faculty as a Strategic Choice in Assessment
Chapter 21
Steven M. Culver, Ray VanDyke
There is much in the assessment literature about the necessity of developing a culture of assessment and mandates from accrediting bodies include... Sample PDF
Developing a Receptive and Faculty-Focused Environment for Assessment
Chapter 22
John Wittman
This chapter argues that as primary stakeholders in writing program assessment, students and instructors need to be included proactively in... Sample PDF
New Collaborations for Writing Program Assessment
Chapter 23
Mya Poe
The study of racial-ethnic group differences on educational tests has yielded a substantial body of research internationally in the last decade. In... Sample PDF
Reporting Race and Ethnicity in International Assessment
Chapter 24
Joan Hawthorne, Tatyana Dumova, April Bradley, Daphne Pederson
In this chapter the authors describe a method developed to assess the outcome of a “cultural familiarity” general education goal. Challenges in... Sample PDF
Method Development for Assessing a Diversity Goal
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