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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Elimination of exam detrimental to standards

    Shurid Sencolumnist
    Shurid Sen
    columnist

    The declining literacy rate among college graduates has been a topic of discussion across the nation ever since a study released late last year highlighted the ever-increasing number of college graduates deficient in basic reading comprehension skills.

    A full 61 percent of graduates lacked the ability to “”comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading – such as computing costs per ounce of food items (and) comparing viewpoints on two editorials,”” according to The Washington Post.

    While college admittance and graduation rates have steadily been on the rise, the students being produced for the job market are sorely unprepared for it. The trend implies a steady degradation of academic standards in an effort to pay the bills by producing more graduates.

    The UA absolutely falls under the category of public universities operating on emaciated budgets. Has the UA, then, contributed to this increasing population of graduates not up to basic literacy standards?

    The Upper-Division Writing Proficiency Exam, a test designed to ensure that all students graduated at a minimum literacy level, was eliminated at the UA in 2002. It was subsequently replaced by the Mid-Career Writing Assessment, a system that relies on course requirements rather than an exam. The UA’s spring graduating class will represent the first group of students in the MCWA system.

    The UDWPE itself was initiated in 1983 as a test of general literacy, consisting of a two-hour timed writing based on textual analysis from popular press. It was initially administered for a $10 student fee that was, significantly, later removed. The removal of the fee caused the university to dig into its shrinking pockets for funding. That, in combination with wavering support from faculty and students, doomed the exam.

    In contrast to the universitywide standard set by the UDWPE, the MCWA allows departments the flexibility to assess students based on their own standards. Successful completion of any second-semester English course with an “”A”” or “”B”” suffices. But if that standard is not met, students are required to pass a departmentally determined “”writing-emphasis”” course.

    Despite its subject-specific precision, the MCWA is a step backwards. Though the UDWPE lacked support from faculty and students, the administration has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, dumping the principle of an exam with the failed exam itself.

    Though the UDWPE may have been an imperfect standard, it was still a tool that could have been used to ensure graduates were leaving the university with requisite skills.

    At the time the exam was eliminated, between 10 and 15 percent of students failed to meet its already minimal requirements – even after completion of the same second-semester composition classes necessary today.

    Now, instead of having to meet the standard, those bottom-of-the-barrel students are dispersed in different writing-emphasis courses throughout the university – or worse yet, given passes through English 102. While major-representative courses do help hone specific skill sets, the idea that students of all departments should meet a certain minimum standard is ignored by the MCWA, leaving disparities between graduates.

    It’s true that a student graduating in biology need not meet the same standards as a student graduating in English, but basic literacy will be just as important for one educated student as it is for the next. The purpose of the university is not fully served by releasing students lacking a well-rounded education for the sake of the budget.

    The graduates of English 102, 104 and 109 all learn from a set curriculum, but do not learn from a set instructor. While the UDWPE was not ideal in assessing adherence to university standards, an examination designed to assess where literacy rates are, and more importantly, where they ought to be headed, is essential to maintaining high academic standards across the board.

    Shurid Sen is a junior majoring in political science and economics.
    He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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