The UMKC Faculty Senate voted unanimously to approve the new writing proficiency exam, RooWriter, as a replacement for the WEPT.
This vote serves as an indefinite approval for the adaptation of RooWriter and implementation is anticipated for spring 2013.
In 2009, the college presented a vote to omit the WEPT entirely, without considering an alternative assessment. English professor Stephen Dilks interjected, proposing research be done to find a viable alternative.
The committee then drafted its proposal for RooWriter, a directed self-placement designed for undergraduate students. After spring 2013, this writing assessment will be required for students to graduate.
The motion to accept the RooWriter sparked initial concerns. One concern voiced during the faculty senate meeting was a lack of minimal standards, meaning there were no explained principles in which student submissions wouldn’t be accepted.
Dilks alleviated this concern by adding the requirement for students to write at least 400 words and the trained faculty graders would have to gauge whether the submission was a valid effort on behalf of the student.
“My argument is that it’s not about the minimal standards,” Dilks said. “It’s about the feedback that is constructive that will help them become a better writer and will help faculty teach the students how to be a better writer.”
Dilks drew inspiration from the University of Michigan, which has been using a directed self-placement writing exam since 1999.
“There is a report they’ve done on their finding that is very positive in terms of benefitting students,” Dilks said. “Also, the benefits to faculty.”
Professors from any field would have access to the graded exam. “Ideally, professors go in and look at that, and they can see a general pattern among the students that happen to be in this particular class,” Dilks said. “They would be able to ideally learn something about how to respond to student writing.”
Much like the current WEPT format, students will be required to write a critical essay pertaining to a prompt. However, this new alternative offers conveniences and benefits the WEPT does not.
Students will be able to take the RooWriter at any given time, being allowed 72 hours to complete the essay online once they’ve started. Students needing to enroll in Writing Intensive courses will still have to wait until the scorer assess the submitted essay before those courses will be displayed as available on Pathway.
RooWriter does not result in a pass/fail grading system. Although one valid submission of this new assessment will be required for graduation, students may take the RooWriter an infinite number of times.
Those taking the exam wouldn’t be pinned down to one topic, but instead have approximately five options from which to choose, appealing to many different interest levels. The graders for each field will be trained in the topic and will likely be a faculty member from the respective school.
The WEPT graders were also previously trained, meeting as a group of 15 for approximately 10 cumulative hours to grade hundreds of essays. Comparatively, graders of the RooWriter will be specifically trained to assess topics with an achieved level of expertise.
Dilks noted that students will be less inclined to repeat this exam, but emphasized the feedback students will receive after submitting essays. He said that the constructive comments made by the graders will be a helpful guide in molding better writing for each student.
While details have yet to be worked out about the criterion for grading, students likely will be allowed to choose between the WEPT and the RooWriter until the WEPT is phased out entirely. Dilks is optimistic about this alternative.
“Our argument is that it’s a much better teaching tool,” Dilks said. “Students can actually learn something from it.”