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UDPWE should be re-evaluated

By Wildcat Opinions Board
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
May 3, 2000
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Monday, the Faculty Senate again opened the debate on the utility of the Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam. Every student at the university must pass the exam to graduate, but that universality has gotten in the way of its importance. Students in all colleges would be better served by a test that focused on aspects of writing more particular to their own specialty.

The UDWPE was established about fifteen years ago as a response to concerns that university students, especially in those colleges in which writing is not focused on in normal classwork, lacked necessary communication skills.

Even in its current form, the UDWPE has its uses. It collects data on student writing skills, acting as a sort of test to see if the skills learned in first-year composition classes are sticking with students. No one likes taking freshman composition classes, but if it turns out that they are helping students, they do have a function. Also, the faculty that volunteer to grade the UDWPE get a very clear idea of where composition professors need to refocus their efforts. This is perhaps the one time that faculty are able to read papers from a large cross-section of the campus, and see which problems are universal.

For most students at our university, the standard set by the UDWPE is a joke. It does not determine if a student is an excellent writer, but rather if the student can summarize someone else's work, then create a coherent thesis about it. It is telling that a passing score on the UDPWE is four out of a possible eight points. A grade such as that in most classes on a paper would land a student an "E."

Writing proficiency standards should be determined on a college by college basis. Without a doubt, the writing skills of students in the English college should be held to a much higher standard than those of students in the Engineering college. This is not to say that there should not be writing standards for students in all colleges, but that writing skills are more important to some colleges than to others.

Already, the colleges vary in their interpretations of the UDWPE test scores. If a student fails the test, the results vary according to which college she belongs to. In small colleges, students are told to submit other examples of their writing for evaluation. In larger colleges, students are automatically required to take a remedial writing course. This is certainly one way to customize the test, but it is by no means the most effective way. Already, many majors have courses that are required of their students. One alternative to the UDWPE would be to have portions of these classes devoted to writing skills specific to that major, followed by an UDWPE-like exam testing students on those specific skills. While the current test might be appropriate for English majors, it would be much more reasonable for students in the Engineering or Mathematics colleges would be much better served by an exam testing their skills in technical writing.

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