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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Writing Proficiency and Student Placement into Community College Composition Courses

  • Author(s): Nazzal, Jane S.
  • Advisor(s): Olson, Carol B.
  • et al.

Writing is a critical skill that can impact students’ academic and economic trajectories, and introductory college writing courses are a gateway to students’ academic success. However, recent data shows that community college students who would have been successful in college-level courses have often been placed by standardized tests into long sequences of pre-collegiate courses, and that most of these students do not persist to transfer-level coursework. While nation-wide reform efforts to improve the persistence and success of community college students aim to eliminate placement exams and pre-collegiate course sequences and to place students directly into the transfer-level composition course, concerns persist about the support of students’ long-term success resulting in the attainment of their postsecondary degrees. Such concerns motivate the three studies that comprise this dissertation.

A writing assessment was administered to 755 students at an institution in California before and after the implementation of major reform. First, I investigated whether three levels of courses that precede the college-level course are warranted and examined the relationship between high school GPA (HSGPA) and students’ level of writing proficiency. I found that student writing was measurably different in the four course levels, but that not all differences were statistically significant. Additionally, I found HSGPA to be weakly correlated with students’ level of writing proficiency. Next, I explored students’ writing and identified features that I used to examine differences in students’ writing across the course levels. Significant differences were found in the frequency of certain features between college-level and precollegiate students. Finally, after structural changes resulted in nearly all students placing into one of two versions of the college-level course, I examined differences in students’ HSGPA, writing score, and course grades between the two course types. I found that students’ writing did not differ significantly, that students’ HSGPA and writing proficiency levels are weakly correlated, and that students of all proficiency levels had high pass rates. Results of this dissertation can help to guide stakeholders in supporting the success of community college students in composition courses and beyond to the achievement of their college degrees.

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