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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Writing assessment a waste of time

Published: September 16, 2011
Section: Editorials

Administrators who have recently introduced the first-year writing assessment would do well to reconsider the scheme.

Under new rules, first-years entering Brandeis must complete an online writing assessment, which is timed for most students, in the summer preceding the start of their first classes.

These are the same students who braved the writing portion of the SAT and ACT and who were accepted to Brandeis after a review of numerous essays, grades and letters of recommendation.

It is easy to subject these students to more tests. They are new to Brandeis, certainly nervous about beginning the college experience and more than willing to please, even if it means spending 90 minutes typing yet another essay.

But is this the best way to allocate resources? For one, someone has to read these essays and that takes time, which inevitably costs the university money, not to mention the time and money that it took to set up the proprietary online assessment system.

(Remember, graders of standardized tests already did Brandeis’ work for the university.)

Writing is an important skill to have and requiring some students to take a composition course before their university writing seminar (UWS) can be beneficial. But why create another requirement that only raises pre-college nervousness when other options for assessing writing exist?

The Hoot would submit that a threshold should be set based on the writing section of the SAT or ACT that automatically places students in or out of the composition course. Students could then petition the placement, based on a voluntary writing sample, after the start of classes. This process eliminates the need to subject all students to a test with limited utility while continuing the aims of the writing assessment program.