WPA Works

WPA Works pages are online spaces for WPA members to work on developing and reviewing organizational initiatives such as position statements, guidelines, or other special projects.

  • WPA Works on a Technology Section to be added to the Outcomes Statement: After two years of intermittent discussions, we are ready to propose language for this addition (http://wpacouncil.org/technoplankDraft)  to the Outcomes Statement
  • WPA Works on Writing Assessment Practices and Higher Education Accreditation: this project includes developing a position statement on sound writing assessment practices (http://wpacouncil.org/node/884), identifying and evaluating resources for assessment design and implementation, and providing a WPA perspective on current changes in higher education accreditation policies and practices
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Draft: Technology Section to be added to the Outcomes Statement (AKA Technoplank)

Draft: Technology Section to be added to the Outcomes Statement

July 2007

Background and Rationale: When a large group of writing program administrators and other composition scholars collaborated on the WPA Outcomes Statement, we considered including a statement addressing the interplay between technology and writing.  We drafted a fifth section that came to be known, for lack of a better phrase, as the technology plank.  After a good deal of discussion, we decided not to include the technology section at that time but to consider it after several years had passed. 

Many of us have agreed that the time has come to include the technology section in the Outcomes Statement.  After two years of intermittent discussions, we are ready to propose the section below for inclusion in the Outcomes Statement. 

We have considered two issues we think deserve mention as we ask for approval of this section: one, whether to keep this as a separate section or weave the elements in with the existing sections; two, whether to include goals and strategies that would appeal to some of the more technologically sophisticated programs and teachers.  

Although we were drawn to the rhetoric of interweaving technology with the other goals of writing instruction, we decided not to chance disrupting sections that have already met with approval from our colleagues not only in rhetoric and composition but in other fields as well.   By drafting this technology section, we have kept in mind the many colleges and universities where neither students nor teachers have ready access to digital technologies or the Internet.  Indeed, we know of some schools in which teachers do not feel they can require typed copy, let alone electronic submissions. Keeping these schools in mind, we have drafted a statement that we hope will give them reasonable objectives without outdistancing their possibilities altogether, leaving them alienated from our shared purposes in teaching required writing courses. 

We therefore offer the statement below: 

Composing in Electronic Environments 

As has become clear over the last twenty years, writing in the 21st century involves the use of digital technologies for several purposes, from drafting to peer reviewing to editing.

Therefore, although the kinds of composing processes and texts expected from students vary across programs and institutions, there are nonetheless common expectations, here added to a revised WPA Outcomes Statement:       

By the end of first-year composition, students should

*  Use available electronic environments for drafting, revising, reviewing, editing and submitting texts

*  Locate, evaluate, organize and use in research electronic sources, including web databases and informal networks, and intranet   sources

*  Understand and exploit the different rhetorical strategies available in print and electronic texts 


Faculty in all programs and departments can build on this preparation by helping students learn

 *   How research and composing processes and texts in their fields are influenced by digital technologies

*   How research and application in their fields are communicated by means of digital technologies


All current members of the Council of Writing Program Administrators are invited to participate in the discussion of this proposed addition to the WPA Outcomes Statement.  Please use the "comment" feature below to post comments and suggestions, and click on "subscribe" if you wish to receive daily notices of new content posted to the discussion. A copy of this background and rationale is available as a pdf attachment (see below) and a copy of the proposed language for the section to be added is available as a Word document.

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WPA Works on Writing Assessment Practices

WPA Works on Writing Assessment Practices and Higher Education Accreditation: this project includes developing a position statement on sound writing assessment practices (http://wpacouncil.org/node/884), identifying and evaluating resources for assessment design and implementation, and providing a WPA perspective on current changes in higher education accreditation policies and practices

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Executive Board Letter re Writing Assessment and Higher Education Accreditation

Dear WPA Colleagues:

As many of you know, in September 2006 the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education issued its report, A Test of Leadership. Since then, the Education Department has decided to focus attention on three elements included in that report: access, affordability, and accountability. What actions the ED will take based on the recommendations of the Spellings Commission is still unclear. However, the ED’s desire to define “accountability” and link it with clear standards of student learning is shared by many others. It will not go away, nor should it go away.

It’s time for WPAs and writing instructors to take action. While it seems to be early in the game, we have the opportunity to educate the ED and other powerful stakeholders about principles of teaching, learning, and assessment in composition and rhetoric and to show stakeholders how we have been engaged in these assessments to improve teaching and learning for many years. Now is the time we can potentially affect change. The recent regional summits convened by the Education Department indicate that there may be potential for us to have some influence on their recommendations, as well.

We need to make clear the principle, demonstrated by research and proven by experience: effective, valid, and reliable assessments are discipline-based and context specific and are used to improve teaching and learning in specific contexts.

Best practice assessments do the following: 1) focus on specific questions emanating from courses and programs, 2) involve instructors and students from the program in the process of assessment, 3) use student work from the course or program to develop criteria, and 4) feed directly back into improving instruction in the course or program. This process is known as “closing the loop.”

Writing instructors and writing programs have long been engaged in designing, implementing, and acting on best practice assessments to improve teaching and learning in our programs.

In addition to educating colleagues on our campuses and in our communities about these principles, we also need to educate stakeholders off campus, including business leaders and elected officials.


The ED has authority only over accrediting agencies (e.g., Middle States Association, The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Technical and Career Institutions, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and Western Association of Schools and Colleges), who in turn are authorized to accredit post-secondary institutions who receive federal funding. The historical mission of these agencies has been to scrutinize institutional assessments to ensure that they are valid and reliable and that they are being used to evaluate and develop learning and teaching within the institution.

In January, the Department entered into the process of negotiating the rules by which it would sanction accrediting agencies and authorize their work. Among the ED’s proposals was that accrediting agencies, not institutions, set standards for learning, a proposal that the accreditors vehemently rejected. Ultimately, the ED and the accrediting agencies were unable to come to an agreement during this “negotiated rule making” process. In light of this failure, the ED alone will issue recommendations regarding guidelines for this work on July 1, and what will happen afterward is unclear.

In the negotiated rule making process, two issues that have the potential to profoundly affect the work of college (writing) instructors were especially problematic: who sets standards for success, and how data gathered from assessments will be framed and used.

Institutions (and, by extension, programs within institutions) understand their students and their contexts. Additionally, institutions can involve disciplinary experts, like faculty, in designing assessments that are appropriately tailored to the discipline, students, and learning contexts. In this way, institutional assessment can be used as a positive strategy for program design and reform and for the development of teaching and learning. Accrediting agencies maintain, and we agree, that their role is to support the development of assessments that indicate how standards set by the institution are being achieved (not directly set those standards).

Additionally, the Education Department would like for the data generated by institutional assessments to be used for a variety of purposes, including (but not limited to) comparing the effectiveness of one institution to another. This is highly problematic because assessments are context-specific, and tell stories about students in an institution. It is not clear in this proposal who would frame the data, that is, what questions would be asked and how the answers to those questions would be presented. While these proposals are troubling, there may be some possibility for influencing both the eventual shape of the Department’s potential actions and the process through which they are enacted.

As of June 2007, accreditation agencies are maintaining the position that their roles are to oversee assessment, not to set standards. Additionally, The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and other higher education policy groups are soliciting their members to contact their institutions and their state and federal representatives with their concerns. WPA and NCTE are also in dialogue about developing strategies for local-level strategies that programs and institutions can use to design valid, reliable assessments and communicate about the importance of such assessments with those on their campus and in their communities.

Right now, you can take seven actions to help stakeholders understand the point: only effective, valid, and reliable assessments that context-specific and discipline-based can be used to improve student learning.

The WPA Executive Board has created a draft statement on these actions upon which you are welcome to draw (available at wpacouncil.org/node/884); we also welcome your comments on this statement.

1. Familiarize yourself with the Spellings Commission Report and the Education Department's recommendations and proposed changes. We have linked this document and other resources, including stories from Inside Higher Education, to the draft of the WPA Statement on Assessment at http://wpacouncil.org/node/884.

2. If you have an assessment process that you feel represents best practices in valid, reliable, and appropriate writing assessment, provide information about the process on CompFAQ (http://comppile.tamucc.edu/wiki/Assessment/FYProgramAssessment). Based on recent experience, we know that specific stories about successful assessment processes are compelling to a range of audiences. We will draw on your stories for a “best practices” toolkit currently being developed by the WPA-NMA. We have tried to make uploading documents to this site as simple as possible. If you would like assistance of have questions, however, contact Glenn Blalock (blalock@grandecom.net) and he will be happy to assist.

3. Familiarize yourself with the accreditation process and the implications that the Spellings Report might have for that process. A document from the Council of Higher Education Accreditation for this purpose is also linked to the draft WPA Statement on Assessment.

4. Talk to the Director of Assessment on your campus. Learn about the actions that s/he has planned regarding assessment, share with them your best practice assessments and principles from our discipline that outline these statements (e.g., the WPA Outcomes Statement), and get involved with their assessment work if possible. If s/he is not aware of the implications these changes might have for teaching and learning in your discipline, feel free to draw on points from the WPA-NMA Statement on Assessment and the WPA OS to help her/him develop a framework for this understanding. The more that you can ground these points in your local context – your courses and/or your writing program – the more effective they will be.

5. Find out what association accredits your institution (e.g., North Central Association of Colleges and Schools) and learn about its accreditation review practices. Is your campus preparing for a periodic accreditation review sometime within the next few years? If so, how can you anticipate the process and propose appropriate assessment procedures? Does your institution participate in a continuous quality improvement process for its accreditation review? If so, what assessment initiatives can you propose?

6. Educate yourself about your legislative representatives’ positions on education-related issues, and consider helping them understand how valid, reliable, and discipline-specific assessment is central to improving student learning.

7. Write a letter directly to Secretary Spellings expressing your concerns with these actions.

You are welcome to draw on the draft WPA Statement on Assessment (wpacouncil.org/node/884) for your work. We also welcome comments on this document, which we hope to adopt as an official statement following a period of input from members. Please click on the link above to review and comment on this statement.

If we act now and act together, we can make a difference.


Executive Board

Council of Writing Program Administrators

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WPA Position Statement on Assessment - DRAFT

The WPA Position Statement on Assessment

NOTE: This statement is a draft. While it is available for you to use, we also encourage and welcome your comments on this in-process document. If you have comments or suggestions for revisions, click on the "comment" link below. In your comments, please indicate the paragraph to which your comment applies (e.g., para 1, para 2, para 3, etc.) and include any changes or suggestions you would like to see included. We welcome comments and suggestions until November 2007. If you use this document, we also would welcome stories about how it was used and/or received.

Linked to this statement, below, are also useful background resources on current discussions about accountability, assessment, and accreditation.

College writing classes prepare students to become successful 21st century communicators who will be prepared to communicate with a variety of audiences using a variety of media, from traditional pen-and-paper composition to electronic communication.

21st century literacy educators understand that, to be prepared for this new age, communicators must be able to analyze and address the expectations of these audiences and employ reading, writing, and thinking strategies to meet those expectations. Those strategies are complicated and involve integrating multiple cognitive activities, like the processing and production of written texts, with analyses of the contexts and audiences for whom communication is being produced. Good communication in the 21st century is context-specific: what represents good writing in one context, like writing for an on-line political blog, might not be seen as good writing in another, like creating a pen-and-paper lab analysis in a biology class.

Developing successful communication practices takes time and experience. Research has long demonstrated that exposure to the conventions of communication (e.g., writing and reading) in different contexts significantly affects an individual’s ability to reproduce those conventions in her or his own work. Thus, communicators who have grown up in literacy-rich homes where reading and writing are regular features typically have an easier time engaging in communicative processes in educational settings.

Post-secondary institutions, especially, acknowledge these differences. Some are highly selective, attracting students who have extensive experience with communicative practices before entering college, while others focus on working with students who bring less experience with these practices. While all institutions establish rigorous learning goals for their students, those goals and the pedagogies by which they are achieved take into account students’ previous experiences as communicators. Additionally, any assessment of these students must take into account students’ experiences and the specific context in which their learning takes place.

Assessments of the degree to which communicators are meeting these demands must reflect these long-established facts. That is, assessments must proceed from existing research indicating that:

  • The demands of successful 21st century communication involve more than working with pen-and-paper writing and reading. Successful 21st century communicators engage in a range of practices, from production of traditional papers to the creation of multi-media texts. Thus, any assessment of successful communication must examine communicators’ abilities to engage in analysis of the expectations of production of multiple kinds of texts, including consideration of what texts are appropriate for what audiences.
  • Qualities associated with successful communication (writing, reading, and other acts of textual production) are context-specific. Thus, any assessment of successful communication must proceed from actual evidence of communicators’ work. Included in that work must be the communicators’ own analysis of their understanding of the specific context, purpose, and audience for that work.
  • Production of successful communication (writing, reading, and other acts of textual production) involves both cognitive processes and cultural analysis (of audience, purpose, and context). These production processes must acknowledge and build upon communicators’ previous experiences with the conventions of communication in particular contexts. Thus, any assessment of successful communication must take into consideration the interplay among cognitive and cultural processes and must attest to the abilities of communicators in specific contexts.
  • Finally, both the processes used for and products emanating from these assessments must be directed back to the programs and contexts charged with developing successful 21st century communicators. Thus, educators working with these programs must be directly involved with the creation of appropriate assessments, and the assessment results should be used to “close the loop” when they take appropriate actions based on those results.

In order to be useful for educators responsible for advancing student development, measures used to assess the success of these processes and the communication produced as a result of their employment must reflect their full complexity. Additionally, because good communication is context specific, comparing textual production across dissimilar contexts provides neither valid nor reliable assessment data. Instead, assessments must be developed that take into account the complex work of 21st century communication and enable educators to improve that work through their teaching.

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Writing items on NSSE -- preparing for meeting at WPA conference to collaborate with NSSE to enhance its coverage of writing

This post has a two parts: "Background and problem/opportunity" and "Please reply to this question...."

Background and problem/opportunity. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has been used by over 1100 higher-ed institutions to help them "identify aspects of the undergraduate experience inside and outside the classroom that can be improved through changes in policies and practices more consistent with good practices in undergraduate education" (http://nsse.iub.edu/html/quick_facts.cfm; a good place to start learning about NSSE). It's becoming an increasingly important instrument used by administrators to make decisions about undergraduate education. In recent postings to the WPA and WAC listservs, many WPAs indicated that their campuses used NSSE and that their upper administrators considered its evidence important.

Here's the problem & opportunity. The current edition of NSSE includes just six items on writing, and most of these focus on the amount of writing. (See the next part of this post for a list of the items.) The good news is, Bob Gonyea is interested in improving the way writing is measured on future versions of NSSE, and is eager to work with WPAs at the upcoming WPA Conference in Tempe (see http://wpacouncil.org/conference2007) and afterward to come up a list of 20 - 30 questions to test in Spring 2008, a subset of which may be included in the next edition of NSSE.

Bob Gonyea (Associate Director, Research & Analysis, at NSSE), believes more and better writing items will improve the NSSE; the idea that the amount and quality of undergraduates' writing would be associated with engagement has, he thinks, good face validity.

To this end Bob will be in Tempe and will spend about 3 hours of conference time with us. First, just after lunch on Saturday (the last full day of the conference), he will give a fairly brief talk on NSSE, how it works, how questions are made and tested, and how NSSE might be improved if it more effectively surveyed students' writing experiences. It will be followed by a 105-minute working group, where we can pound out some details. The session will be open to all. There will be other concurrent sessions scheduled but probably none with a WAC focus.

This opportunity may lead to a NSSE instrument that provides strong evidence that shows (for the first time at a national level) how writing can make a difference in student engagement and learning.

Shirley Rose informs us that the NSSE session is tentatively scheduled for Saturday afternoon, July 14, from 1:45-4:30. It will cross two concurrent session times, 1:45-3:00 and 3:00-4:30. Refreshments will be available 2:45-3:30. so the group can take a break sometime during that window. there might be some slight adjustment to the time, but it's certain that the workshop will be Saturday afternoon.

Please respond to these two questions: 1) What in the current set of NSSE writing questions seems effective? 2) What would you like to see more of? Let's try to keep this conversation (at least for now) on this WPA blog, so please respond to this blog post. Later, we will probably want to throw it open to the WPA listserv. And perhaps we can re-evaluate whether this blog is the best way to communicate.

Here are the six items (go to http://nsse.iub.edu/html/survey_instruments_2007.cfm to see the entire instrument):

In your experience at your institution during the current school year, about how often have you done each of the following? (Very often, Often, Sometimes, Never)

  • (rewropap) Prepared two or more drafts of a paper or assignment before turning it in
  • (integrat) Worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources

During the current school year, about how much reading and writing have you done? (None, 1-4, 5-10, 11-20, More than 20)

  • ((writemor) During current school year …. number of written papers or reports of 20 pages or more
  • (writemid) During current school year …. number of written papers or reports between 5 and 19 pages
  • (writesml) During the current school year … number of written papers or reports of fewer than 5 pages

To what extent has your experiences at this institution contributed to your knowledge, skills, and personal development in the following areas? (Very much, Quite a bit, Some, Very little)

  • (gnwrite) Writing clearly and effectively