January 15-16, 2004

 

ITEM 122-115-R0104                  Writing Proficiency Recommendation

 

 

THAT:                                      The Board of Regents approve the recommendations of the Writing Proficiency Steering Committee to:

Ž      postpone the adoption of specific admissions standards for composition proficiency until July 2005 so that the revised SAT and ACT tests, which will include authentic writing measures for the first time, may be included; and

Ž      authorize implementation of the Montana Writing Assessment, which will serve as an alternative admissions standard to writing portions of national tests such as AP and CLEP, as well as SAT and ACT once they become available.

 

EXPLANATION:                        The National Commission on Writing, in its 2003report entitled “The Neglected R,” cited a “growing concern within the education, business, and policy-making communities that the level of writing in the United States is not what it should be.” In response to this concern, national tests commonly used for college admissions are changing.  Beginning in 2005, the SAT will add a writing sample, and the ACT will offer an optional test of writing.   These measures will help ensure that the ability to write well is emphasized more in high school and valued more by students.   

 

The Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education recognized and responded to this concern long before it became the subject of a national study commissioned by the College Board.  In 1998 the Regents began consideration of proficiency-based admissions standards and, collaboratively with the Office of Public Instruction, formed a joint committee to align K-12 standards and college-entrance expectations in composition. Based on the committee report, in 2000, the Board of Regentsdirected OCHE to oversee the field test of a writing assessment for the purpose of college admissions. Although the Regents are now poised to adopt recommendations, the charge of the Writing Proficiency Steering Committee has been delayed by the revisions to the SAT and ACT that will make them viable options for assessing writing proficiency.  Until those tests have been administered, a recommendation on scores is premature. 

 

However, the Committee anticipates that it will recommend five “tests” as sound measures of writing proficiency—the Advanced Placement and CLEP options, the writing portions of the revised SAT and ACT, and the Montana Writing Assessment.  All of these measures have been developed to meet externally assessed standards for validity, cultural neutrality, and reliability.   Four of the five test providers – SAT, ACT, AP, and CLEP – are nationally recognized and provide widely accessible testing instruments to prospective students throughout the United States and the world. 

 

The fifth measure – the Montana Writing Assessment – developed with the assistance of ACT, has been extensively field-tested in Montana, and offers specific advantages available through no other instrument.  Among these advantages are the collaboration of K-12 and higher education in test administration and scoring, and a data-driven and results-oriented dialogue among professionals about what constitutes good writing and good writing instruction at all levels.  However, the most important benefits of the Montana Writing Assessment are the benefits that it provides to Montana students: improved instruction, aligned curriculum, locally relevant and accessible writing topics, external validation of students’ writing ability, and, best of all, steadily improving writing skills.

 

The Board of Regents has historically recognized the value of multiple methods of demonstrating proficiency for admissions, including nationally validated instruments and alternative avenues for Montana students.  Most recently, the proficiency admissions standard in mathematics suggests a Rigorous Core as an alternative to test scores.  After careful consideration, the Writing Proficiency Steering Committee decided that additional English coursework is not a workable option for high schools.  However, the Montana Writing Assessment will give students the opportunity to take a prompted, timed writing assessment; receive objective feedback on their writing strengths and weaknesses; avail themselves of remedial resources; and, if necessary take another test or retake the Montana Writing Assessment as one way to demonstrate proficiency.

 

In order for the Montana Writing Assessment to be included as a measure of writing proficiency for college admissions in Montana, the challenge of sustaining a Montana-based writing assessment must be addressed.  The Steering Committee has identified two promising alternatives:

 

(1) OCHE could continue to assume responsibility for the design, administration, scoring, and reporting of the Montana Writing Assessment, with oversight from the Board of Education’s P-20 Committee and continued assistance from school districts and campuses; or (2) a Montana Writing Consortium could be formed to administer the writing assessment.  Many Montana school districts have expressed an interest in the formation of a Montana Writing Assessment Consortium, comprised of participating school districts and colleges.  The Board of Education’s P-20 Committee could appoint representatives from school districts and colleges, the Office of Public Instruction and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education to oversee the testing, scoring, and reporting processes in order to maintain the validity and reliability of the Montana Writing Assessment. 

 

Cost:  Cost projections are included in the attached budget.  This proposal requests that the Board of Regents fund OCHE’s role in the oversight of the Montana Writing Assessment or the formation of a consortium, with costs shared by participating schools.