More WSU students are completing their Junior Writing Portfolio before they become seniors, but the goal of the program is for students to submit their portfolios at the start of their junior year, and only about 34 percent are managing to do that.
Kelly-Riley

That’s just one finding from an internal assessment of the Junior Writing Portfolio released last month by the WSU Office of Writing Assessment. Completing the portfolio early in the junior year is important, said Diane Kelly-Riley, director of the Office of Writing Assessment, because then those students who need help can get that help while there is still time to make significant gains in writing ability.

Employer priority

“Writing is really the medium of exchange in the professional world,” she said. “The number one thing employers are looking for—that sets people apart—is the ability to communicate effectively, in writing and in other ways, but especially in writing.”

Compiled by graduate students Donna Evans and Julie Meloni, the 120-page report analyzes data from more than 9,800 portfolios completed during the 2007-2009 biennium. With myriad charts and tables, the report allows faculty and staff to delve more deeply into the data to analyze how long it takes to complete the portfolio, as well as how pass rates vary according to gender, academic major, college, credit hours, language acquisition and other factors.

What’s involved

Now in its 16th year, the Junior Writing Portfolio is part of the WSU Writing Assessment Program and continues to be the only universitywide, mid-degree writing assessment required of students at a public research university. The Writing Assessment Program received the 2009 “Writing Program Certificate of Excellence” from the Conference on College Composition and Communication and has been recognized several times by U.S. News and World Reports as a model diagnostic writing program, most recently in its 2010 edition of “America’s Best Colleges.”

To complete the writing portfolio, students must submit a packet of three college-level writing samples that have been approved by the course instructor and they must also take a two-hour essay exam, responding to two impromptu writing prompts. Consistent with previous years, about 90 percent of WSU students earned a “pass” or “pass with distinction” on their portfolio, while about 10 percent of students were required to enroll in one or more additional writing or grammar courses.

Report findings

Among the report findings:

· 36.5 percent of nontransfer students completed the portfolio before 75 credit hours

· 33.1 percent of transfer students completed the portfolio before 75 credit hours.

· 32.4 percent of males completed the portfolio prior to 75 credit hours

· 35.6 percent of females completed the portfolio prior to 75 credit hours

· Most students at the time of portfolio completion during 2007-2009 had 84 credit hours.

· Portfolios included papers written for courses in every department on campus, including 4,100 different courses during this reporting period.

· More than 350 WSU faculty have served as paid Writing Portfolio evaluators

Timing and integrity

Kelly-Riley said the Junior Writing Portfolio is intended to be a midcareer writing assessment. If students delay completing their portfolio until late in their junior year, or into their senior year, she said, “it undermines the instructional integrity of the assessment.”

Completing the Junior Writing Portfolio does not necessarily signify that a student is an accomplished writer, she said, but only that the student has attained midcareer writing competency and is prepared to tackle more sophisticated or demanding writing projects such as those required in Writing in the Major and capstone courses.

Enforcement

The writing portfolio is a general education requirement, and so every student needs to complete it prior to graduation, Kelly-Riley said. According to the Junior Writing Portfolio Web site, students need to complete one part of the portfolio the semester after earning 60 credit hours, and the other part of the portfolio the flowing semester. If a student fails to complete the portfolio on time, a hold is placed on that student’s ability to register for classes. But, Kelly-Riley said, the hold can be lifted if the student works with the writing assessment office to create a plan for completing the portfolio.

Surprising finding

One surprising finding, Kelly-Riley said, is that about 70 percent of students submitted a paper as part of their portfolio that had been completed in a non-WSU course. The good news, Kelly-Riley said, is that there is actually a lot of writing that is being assigned not only at WSU, but in undergraduate courses around the state. But, she said, if a large number of WSU students are officially “transfer” students who have brought credit hours with them, that might explain why students are reaching senior status before they’ve completed their portfolio requirements.

For more information about the Junior Writing Portfolio, contact Kelly-Riley at dokelly@wsu.edu or 335-1323.