Increasing Students’ Academic Success Through Research-Based Program Development, Im

Investigating Student Achievement Tr

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Investigating Student Achievement Trends and Adjusting Academic Support

Strategies in the Required Freshman Composition Courses
As we review data each year regarding the academic achievement trends of UCSC students sorting them by such factors as ethnicity, their High School’s Academic Performance Index score, EOP status, method of satisfying the Entry Level Writing Requirement (ELWR), Math Placement Examination Score, etc., we find that first year students who do not satisfy ELWR by examination before or within their first (fall) quarter are far less likely to graduate from UCSC with a cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.0 or above. This is concerning, as their options for post baccalaureate professional licensing and graduate school programs are thus greatly diminished.
From a longitudinal study of the 2008 Frosh Cohort, we know that students who satisfied ELWR either by earning a score of 8 or higher on the Analytic Writing Placement Examination (AWPE) exam in May or September and thus satisfying ELWR before beginning their first quarter at UCSC, or by earning an 8 or above on the November AWPE and, therefore, satisfying ELWR prior to the end of fall quarter, on average

earned higher grades in the required second quarter of the UCSC 2-quarter frosh composition series, as well as earning higher grades in other lower-division writing-based classes in Economics, Psychology, Sociology, etc.

At UCSC there are two ways for students to satisfy ELWR: the first is by earning a score of 8 or above on the AWPE given once before fall quarter begins (a May or a September option) or toward the end of students’ first quarter in November. Students who do not satisfy ELWR by examination are allowed to do so by submitting a portfolio of their writing. The portfolio process is carefully constructed and evaluated by two or more Writing Program faculty. Yet, as Table 4 will illustrate, important composition skill- level differences reflecting students’ pre-UCSC competence as writers seem to remain evident even as students move into upper-division courses.
Data presented in Table 4 is part of the Learning Support Services longitudinal study of academic writing trends. Our original cohort is 2,184 students. These students entered as first year students in fall of 2008, satisfied ELWR by exam or portfolio, and then took Writing 2, Rhetoric and Inquiry, by the end of spring, 2010. 75.5% (N=1,649) students passed ELWR by exam and at the start of spring, 2011, 15.3% (N=253) of this group

were not enrolled in UCSC. 24.5% (N=535) passed by portfolio and at the start of spring, 2011, 18.7% (N=100) of this group were not enrolled in UCSC. The following

table presents cumulative GPA data for the students in the 2008 cohort that remain at

Table 4 Cumulative GPA (Winter, 2011) of Fall 2008 Cohort By ELWR Satisfaction

Method and EOP Status






Cum. Mean GPA (SE)


Cum. Mean GPA (SE)



3.12 (0.012)


2.98 (0.024)



2.93 (0.027)


2.75 (0.023)

As these data make evident, the EOP students who satisfied ELWR by portfolio, as a group, have the lowest cumulative GPA, 2.75. As this data presents their cumulative GPA’s as they are beginning the third quarter of their third (junior) year, if they graduate in four years, they may have only 3 additional quarters in which to improve their academic achievement records. In these very competitive times, it is highly unlikely that any UCSC graduate without a minimum of a 3.0 cumulative GPA will be likely to be accepted into a terminal Master’s degree or professional licensing program (law, teaching, social work, business, etc.). Therefore, Learning Support Services remains challenged to develop and implement academic support programs in partnership with the Writing Program and academic departments that rely on analytic writing as a means of assessing students’ learning.

All first quarter students at UCSC must take the first of two required composition courses, College Core. They are divided into ELWR satisfied and ELWR non-satisfied sections. Students who do not satisfy ELWR by the end of fall quarter are required to enroll in Writing 20 in winter, but those who have satisfied ELWR may enroll in Writing

2, the second required lower-division composition course at UCSC.

Before discussing student academic achievement trends in Writing 2, we will present a short summary of a finding that has influenced our academic support for Writing 20, a winter quarter required course for students who did not satisfy ELWR by the end of fall quarter. As is probably obvious, Writing 20 has a high proportion of students whose home language is a language other than English and whose backgrounds have resulted in their having EOP status. Based on our detailed analysis of the relationship of students’ participation in individual tutoring offered to Writing 20 students, we discovered that there was a significant positive correlation between number of hours of tutoring and ELWR satisfaction for students who received more than four hours of tutoring by the end of the class (r=.192, P=0.021, N=90). Therefore, Learning Support Services/the Writing Program now requires Writing 20 students to participate in a minimum of 5 hours of tutoring.
In an extensive study of students’ academic success patterns in Writing 2, LSS uncovered several trends. As Figure 3 will illustrate, EOP students do less well in Writing 2 than their non-EOP peers.

Figure 3 Writing 2 Grade Distribution by EOP Status


This grade difference is especially true when EOP students satisfy the ELWR requirement by submitting a portfolio rather than satisfying the requirement by examination, as illustrated in Figure 4. Because 80% of EOP and 90% of non-EOP students earned grades of A or B in Writing 2, we simplified the analysis presented in Figure 4. It is noteworthy, though, that the EOP students did earn the majority of the C, D, and F grades given in Writing 2 (see Figure 3).

Figure 4 Percent of Students in Writing 2 with As and Bs by EOP Status and Method of

ELWR Satisfaction

N= 1111 215 N= 335 246

In essence, then, the initial writing hierarchy of student achievement apparent in incoming UCSC students, if it is not mitigated by the end of fall quarter via the Analytic Writing Placement Examination, remains visible by the end of their required lower- division composition classes. We must admit that we are still searching for remedies to this academic inequality. We will discuss a few of our initial attempts here.

In response to the data in Figure 4 illustrating the difference between EOP students’ success in Writing 2 based on their satisfaction of ELWR by portfolio rather than by examination, the Writing Program has changed the configuration of its portfolio format to include more non-instructor/tutor assisted student writing. Last fall, the first quarter of this change, resulted in a decrease of the number of students who satisfied the ELWR requirement by portfolio at the end of fall quarter, thus resulting in more students being required to enroll in another ELWR non-satisfied writing class, Writing 20.
One Learning Support Services program, Writing 2, course-attached, group writing tutoring, has demonstrated success in establishing increased educational equity in Writing

2 sections. Yet, it is an expensive program, and one that is not appealing to more than a few Writing 2 instructors. We do provide some sections of Writing 2 (per instructor request and available funding) with required group tutoring. Students spend one and one- half hours per week in peer guided writing groups of five students where they share

plans, drafts, and paper revisions. Our study of Writing 2 revealed that the difference

between the academic achievement trends of EOP and non-EOP students decreased in the course sections supported with required group tutoring.

As demonstrated by Figures 5 and 6, in the Writing 2 course sections within which group tutoring was required, the grade distribution differences between EOP and non-EOP students became minimal. In fact, the grade distribution favoring non-EOP students is statistically significant in Writing 2 sections not supported by Writing 2 group tutoring (Kolmogorov-Smirnov =3.189, P<0.00), but this difference is almost erased in Writing 2 sections supported by required group tutoring (K-S=0.289, P=1.00). Group tutoring

seems to have mitigated this EOP achievement gap in Writing 2. Therefore, we have attempted to increase the number of Writing 2 sections supported with group tutoring.

Figure 5 Writing 2 Grade Distribution by EOP Status for Students not in Required Group



Figure 6 Writing 2 Grade Distribution by EOP Status for Students in Required Group



Unfortunately, we still have major writing issues to address, as the relationship of students’ academic achievement in Writing 2 is evident in their performance in other lower-division courses essential to gaining admission to various majors at UCSC. Figure

7 presents an example of these trends. (All of the student data presented in the following discussion of Psychology and Sociology courses refers to students in the 2008 frosh cohort who participated in the LSS Writing 2 study.)

Figure 7 Percent of Students with As and Bs in 4 Social Science Classes Based on

Timing of ELWR Satisfaction

N= 177 108 N= 41 55

In all four classes, Psychology 1 (Introduction to Psychology), Psychology 10 (Introduction to Developmental Psychology), Sociology 1 ( Introduction to Sociology), and Sociology 15 (World Society), the EOP students who did not satisfy ELWR prior to entering UCSC had substantially fewer A and B grades than those who came to UCSC already demonstrating university-level writing skills. In the case of the Sociology data, this is extremely important. In order to be certain of being accepted into the Sociology major at UCSC, students must have a grade of B or above in both Sociology 1 and 15. As has been shown thus far in this paper, students who enter UCSC lacking university level writing and mathematical skills continue to be disadvantaged. Although Learning Support Services works closely with these departments, and in spite of the successful academic support interventions that we have developed, we still have serious problems to address. Yet, our continual research allows us to evaluate our achievements and recognize our need for further innovative efforts to mitigate students’ previous educational under preparedness.

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