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Minimum Competencies

Add to the list of minimum competencies

On October 2, 2006, Bonnie Kyburz asked the following questions on WPA-L (an excerpt of her message appears here):

“I have been asked to work toward addressing the following three questions and believe that the list might help me with the first. They are:

  1. What are the minimum competencies students need in order to be prepared for/successful in ENGL 1010, according to the profession?
  2. Do our expectations/requirements at UVSC match those of the profession?
  3. Are the various tests and cutoff scores we are using to place students working? (Are they accurate measures of the minimum competencies?) Are there better ways of doing placement/getting at competencies?”

As of October 6, she received the following responses (excerpts from messages, and not necessarily in chronological order):

For a full record of the email discussion about this issue, see the WPA-L Archives: October 2006, topic = “Minimum Competencies.”

Further information on Directed Self-Placement

From Carol Rutz

“[A] self-inventory along the lines of the Grand Valley State U self-placement instrument might be useful if designed to reveal students’ self-assessment of skills. Self-reported results are often distrusted, but it would be interesting to see if a well-designed instrument would be as valid as, say, SAT scores, which tell us nothing about specific skills.”

From Ed White

“Bonnie, so much depends on the 1010 course that it doesn’t really make much sense to talk about placement INTO it without examining its curriculum. I say in one of my books that for many such courses the minimum competence needed is some sentence sense and basic reading ability; for others, the minimum competence is an ability to write an organized essay and coherent paragraphs along with quite sophisticated skills at reading complex texts. There is NO national standard for entrance ability, except the national aptitude tests, which, of course, test the ability to fill in bubbles, not writing. I think the only professional way to meet the question you raise is to do a small research study of your own students in relation to your own 1010 curriculum: who drops out early or fails, and what are they unable to do? You could also survey your teachers to find out how they define someone not ready to learn what they have to teach; they know and will tell you. But it is illusory to imagine a national standard. That is one reason why the OS has been successful: it examines outcomes of the college course, not entrance issues.”

Bonnie’s Response to Ed:

“Hi Ed, I agree completely with your assessment of the value of National Standards. I don’t think we are seeking them. More specifically, the committee wanted to get a sense of how our profession views these matters; your comments speak very nicely to such concerns. My request for a list of skills derives from my sense that we can generally comment upon what we see as necessary (such as, as you say, some basic reading ability and sentence structure knowledge/skill). If I can encourage folks to add to that “list,” I think we could come up w/ a few generalizations that could be helpful. In fact, it is the absence of specificity that makes our response valuable, as I see it.”

From Glenn Blalock

Bonnie, You probably have these resources on your list for question #3 (and part of #2), but I’ll send the links anyway.

Rich’s work on this issue is very helpful.

You may also find useful information at the CompFAQs site that is collecting program documents:

One of the categories is “placement,” and you’ll find answers to your questions there, at least for the 10 schools who have so far submitted documents. (We are still collecting documents, by the way, for those who are reading this!)

Another thought re: question #1: You might look at the curriculum standards for 12th grade language arts in your state. Here in Texas, those curricular guidelines are relatively progressive (though largely ignored in this high-stakes-testing environment). You might create some interesting discussions about your entry expectations, the state’s vision of what should be happening, and the disconnect with what students are able to do?

Depending on the context for your questions, you might also refer to NCTE/IRA _Standards for English Language Arts_, which offers a list of 12 “standards” or competencies that they say should inform the teaching of English in secondary settings.

(These last suggestions depend, of course, on the context for your initial request.)

If you wish to contribute to this discussion about minimum competencies for entering FY college students, please add to the List of Minimum Competencies that writing teachers expect for entering FY college students

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