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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Is it Time to Change the Writing Proficiency Exam Model?

Students might soon need to adapt to a new method of taking the WPE
Students might soon need to adapt to a new method of taking the WPE

 

 

The Writing Proficiency Exam is often criticized as either being a waste of students’ time or the bane of their existence. The timed, written exam is either easily passed or miserably failed. Many people in the education profession do not believe the written test is an accurate measure of a student’s writing ability.

A student may choose to take the exam by submitting a portfolio. However, as warned by the UMass Boston website, pursuing a passing grade through the portfolio option is a time-consuming process that requires the student to collect 15 pages of graded material from courses taken at UMass Boston, plus an additional original five page essay on an assigned topic. For all the effort involved, the student is left with little more than a collection of essays and certification that they can read and write.

Many students are indignant about having to take a test that is designed to prove they posses such a basic skill, but the test is in place because the outside world likes it. Employers and donors like to see standards being enforced. Employers like to see homogeny – it makes them feel confident that whether a UMass Boston student is in the College of Liberal Arts or the College of Science and Mathematics, that student will be able to read, write, and comprehend at a standardized level.  

All the UMass schools do it, as most universities offer some form of it. A test does seem necessary, given that 20 percent of the people who take it the first time do not pass it. There needs to be a catch for students who need their reading and writing skills improved. Despite the need for the test, the problem of capable students feeling insulted and having their time wasted is a real one, and there is a solution.

The Writing Proficiency Department has kicked around the idea of doing away with the timed exam and strictly using the portfolio system, albeit with some major tweaks. The new portfolio system, it is imagined, would follow the model set by Boston University. Instead of requiring students to go through the cumbersome process of turning in a stack of papers in a physical portfolio, students would simply make use of an e-portfolio, which would be primarily online.

In this imagined format, students could have instant, simplified access to their writing, which they can present in a timely and ultimately much more organized manner.

Sounds nice, but it has been described as a dream, you might even say a pipe dream. There is one reason why this model might prove difficult to install which springs to mind: not every student likes the timed exam. There are a lot of espousers of the timed method; people whom actually despise the portfolio format. That is the easiest way to go for most students and plenty of scholars believe it is a fair way to assess a student’s ability. The university might face some resistance on that front if the e-portfolio format is introduced.

The main argument against the change seems to be that it would be difficult. Well, I think it would be worth it. Colleges are restructuring all over this campus to accommodate construction and large influxes of students, as well as huge decreases in students. Departments always have to adapt. They seem to do so in a way that is most beneficial to students. Why should the way writing proficiency is determined be any different?  Do we stay the same because it is easy, or do we change for the better?