Wednesday, April 25, 2007

ACT recent survey/Barbara Cambridge's NCTE blog

Barbara Cambridge has blogged about this year's ACT National Curriculum Survey. As with the previous report, this one indicates that college writing instructors say hs classes should focus more on grammar and punctuation. Who are these college instructors, I ask? As I said in a response to Barbara's post, I was a respondent for the previous ACT survey. I found the questions maddeningly narrow and underscored by a conception of writing/learning that bore virtually no resemblence to one shared among those in the field of composition/rhetoric. I wrote my objections to the survey on the document; I have no doubt but that they were discarded. The most recent report, like the previous one, also refers to ACT's various curriculum and placement instruments as products that can help hs teachers "provide" what college teachers are represented as desiring, too. It's yet another example of the testing/curriculum industry's self-referencing, profit making research. Follow those footnotes, too ... I have no doubt but that they refer to other studies conducted by ACT and aligned organizations.

The next time this survey comes out, I'm going to suggest that everyone who receives it stage an action against it - that's the only way I can think of to catch ACT's attention and let them know that this is not the way that many college writing instructors approach/envision writing instruction. Gargh...

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Eagle Has Landed

Well, not maybe landed - and it's not an eagle - but I did get a draft of the OMB in the mail to the publisher on Friday. So that's something. It's only a draft (after the previous 1,000,000 drafts of each chapter, of course) and there will be revisions, but it's off. Now, I await the comments of reviewers. Hopefully they won't say, "What? What is this drivel?" And as I wait, there is oh, so much more to attend to... but I won't go into that here.

What I will go into, a bit, is praise for the intrepid Inside Higher Ed reporter who is keeping track of the Department of Ed's moves around accreditation, Doug Lederman. He's doing a great job writing this out very clearly, I think. If the tens of readers have not been keeping up with this discussion (which is a sort of under-the-radar thing, I think), check out Lederman's latest story. Higher ed can hold its breath and make all the threats it wants to (not that anyone is - more, I think, people just aren't paying attention), but something is going to happen. The key is for us - higher ed., I mean - to have a voice in what that something is.

But that work can be for another day. Because today, now that the OMB is in the mail, it will be time to devote yet more attention to some of the surprisingly reassuring minutae of WPA work, like putting the final touches on the fall term ENGL 120/121/225 schedule. Sure, it's like one of those little games with the numbers in the square where your job is to put them in numerical order... but there's something calming about that contained order-ness, especially in the midst of this kind of chaos. And then I'm going to turn to all the reading I haven't done this year - like Jeff Grabill's new book on electronic stuff and civic action, which I'm very excited about, and also a book called _Who Can Afford Critical Consciousness_ that looks interesting, and Sondra Perl's book about going to Austria (not new, but I still haven't read it). I am thinking about a restructuring of the course I always teach in fall, "Teaching Composition at the College Level," so that it reflects some very exciting thinking that a group of us have been doing around ENGL 121 (our research writing course, for you tens of readers who don't know EMU's writing curriculum like the back of your hands - which, if you don't, why don't you? Shouldn't EVERYONE? (hahahahahaha - joke there.) I also want to reread _Everyone Can Write_ again because I find it so lovely, as mentioned in a previous post. So - many things to read. The weather is FINALLY not apalling, so I might even be able to do some of this outside. How nice is *that*?

PS For you tens of readers waiting for the memo I mentioned in my last post, I decided not to post it. Enough to air my issues here; no need to stoke the fire.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Visit with the Assessment Consultant, or Putting ?? Where Mouth Is

In my re-emergence into the EMU scene from the world of sabbatical, I've recently had the interesting experience of serving on EMU's Retention Council. This is a group convened by the Enrollment Management division (they oversee admissions and advising) to work on retaining students. As part of the effort, EMU also has retained a retention consultant who has been doing some work with the university over the past year (apparently).

I learned about this consultant's work first hand when I was appointed to the Council (three weeks ago). Among the consultant's recommendations were items and questions directly affecting the First Year Writing Program (that's the program that I run, yes, formerly in conjunction with our much-missed colleague Heidi Estrem, soon in junction with our new colleague, John S. Dunn) that I had heard nothing about. The consultant is pushing reverting to using ACT scores for placement into 120 (a practice that we *finally* abandoned two years ago; a practice that is completely unethical and invalid because ACT/standardized test scores say nothing about students' writing abilities), and asking questions about the performance of students in English 120 that, shall we say, are not grounded in an understanding of assessment principles and practices from composition and rhetoric.

Needless to say, I am working with this consultant - and with the Retention Council - to reframe the questions being raised/concerns being articulated so that they do reflect what we know. I have sent several e-mails regarding placement to this person and have drafted a memo that, once my colleagues read it and let me know that it sounds okay (and/or I make the revisions they suggest), I will post to this very blog so that the tens of readers can get a sense of the situation.

This whole situation is pretty interesting on many levels. Some of them are institutional, and I won't go into those here for probably obvious reasons. But more broadly, this is a situation where someone who knows very little (and maybe even less than that) about writing instruction, research, placement, or assessment is coming in and asking pointed questions (that are really, if you ask me, only slightly disguised recommendations, and probably will soon be less than disguised recommendations) *about* writing instruction (etc.). I wonder: why might this person believe that it is appropriate to make these recommendations without consulting the experts the institution has hired (in whom the institution has invested time and resources) to work with these very issues? Certainly, when I raised this issue with colleagues from the Academic Affairs division at my university (the division that includes, logically enough, faculty and other instructional staff) they asked the same question. But why, more generally, would this consultant presume to proceed in the manner that this one has? Would the consultant recommend to a biologist - or even infer to them - how they should proceed with work about which s/he (the biologist) is an expert, like laboratory procedures?

The tens of readers to this list of course know the answer to this question: no, a retention consultant (or anyone else) wouldn't say to a biologist, "You've been conducting research on cell biology for years and I don't know much about it, but I'm going to recommend a procedure that you should use for your research because I think it's better." And this is but one more example of/reason why it's important that we comp/rhet people advocate for appropriate frames to surround our work. I'm in the process of doing that now, with the e-mails I've already sent and the memo that I've written. My guess is that, based on these documents and the alliances that we have built around campus, this will be a successful "adjustment." But this is work that I'm comfortable doing and know how to do because I've spent a long time thinking about how to do it, where the resources are for doing it, etc. One of the things that we in the field need to work on, I think (and "duh..." on this one) is actively developing strategies and resources so that everyone can engage in this work with some degree of comfort and acumen, too.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The *&&*(&*( Contract and More

Big news item from EMU is that it looks like we're on the verge of getting a contract, finally. Apparently the union and the university are trying to figure out how to work domestic partner benefits after Michigan voters approved the incredibly _____phobic (insert your prefix: homo, xeno, etc.) defense of marriage act a couple of years ago, but apart from that it's all over but the shouting. We'll get raises (3.5 or so percent/year) for the next four years plus a little cash on top (which I don't get, but whatever) and we'll start paying for health insurance, which we should be doing. Why we all couldn't get to this point last September I'm not sure, but here we are. Hopefully with this behind everyone the university can turn its attention back to, say, running a university.

In other news, my gym friend Mark today reminded us (at 5:20, as we were waiting for the 5:30 opening time) that today is the fourth anniversary of the US military pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein. Good way to start the day. That, too, has worked out well - so glad that we've achieved victory in Iraq. :-/