Report on the Portfolio Assessment

of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program

in the College of Arts & Sciences


(web version)


Prepared by

Teresa M. Redd, Director

November 26, 2001





Executive Summary …………………………………………………………….

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………...

Method …………………………………………………………………………...

Results ……………………………………………………………………………

Discussion ……………………………………………………………………….

Appendices ………………………………………………………………………

References ………………………………………………………………………


In June 2001, I organized the first portfolio assessment of the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Program in the College of Arts & Sciences. The purpose of this assessment was (1) to determine what type of writing instruction was taking place and (2) to measure WAC students’ writing progress and proficiency. The assessment consisted of two types of evaluation, both focusing on the student "portfolio"—a folder presenting examples of a student’s writing: First, I reviewed 178 portfolios consisting of all of the writing that the students had submitted during the Fall 2000 or Spring 2001 semester. Then, on June 4 and 5, WAC and English teachers rated 140 portfolios, each containing a representative set of papers that a WAC student had produced.

The assessment revealed the following:

Writing Instruction. Although the genres of writing vary from course to course, WAC teachers are assigning a great deal of writing, including frequent "prewriting" assignments but only occasional revisions. Most WAC teachers are also supplying sufficient feedback on formal papers, but a few need to respond more consistently to grammatical problems.

Writing Progress and Proficiency. Nearly three quarters of the students progressed in one or more areas of writing (i.e., content, arrangement, or style). However, most students achieved only an average level of writing proficiency.

In light of these findings, I recommend six measures to strengthen the WAC program, some of which I have already initiated this semester:

  1. Rewriting. I should encourage WAC teachers to assign more revisions by showing them how to respond to first drafts more efficiently.
  2. Feedback. I should also help WAC teachers provide more substantive feedback on grammatical problems and adjust grades accordingly.
  3. Writing Center. The Office of the Provost or the Office of the Dean should provide funds to hire more tutors for the English Department’s Writing Center.
  4. Freshman English. The English Department should continue to strengthen its Freshman English Program to ensure that weak writers do not pass from Freshman English into WAC classes.
  1. Standards for Proficiency. WAC and English teachers should collaborate on maintaining high standards for writing proficiency.
  2. Future WAC Assessments. We should conduct another portfolio assessment five years from now, after implementing changes.



In June 2001, I organized the first portfolio assessment of the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Program in the College of Arts & Sciences. The purpose of this assessment was (1) to determine what type of writing instruction was taking place and (2) to measure WAC students’ writing progress and proficiency. The assessment consisted of two types of evaluation, both focusing on the student "portfolio"—a folder presenting examples of a student’s writing: First, I reviewed 179 portfolios consisting of all of the writing (e.g., journals, outlines, papers, essay exams) that the students had submitted during the Fall 2000 or Spring 2001 semester. Then, on June 4 and 5, WAC and English teachers rated 140 portfolios, each containing a representative set of papers that a WAC student had produced.


In 1991, under the leadership of the English Department, the College of Arts & Sciences launched an ambitious writing-across-the-curriculum program (WAC) at Howard University. The goals of the WAC program are twofold: to help students learn to write and write to learn. In other words, the writing-intensive courses that are the centerpiece of the WAC program help students master the text conventions of a particular discipline, while reinforcing skills learned in Freshman English. At the same time, the courses empower students to use writing assignments to read and think critically about the subject matter of the discipline.

At Howard the WAC program is a voluntary, collaborative venture guided by college-wide standards. Each year teachers volunteer to participate in a series of workshops: "Designing Assignments," "Revising Syllabi," and "Handling the Paper Load." During the workshops, the teachers collaborate on the revision of their syllabi to meet the Guidelines for Teachers of Writing-Intensive Courses in the Disciplines (see Appendix A). These guidelines call for frequent prewriting (i.e., written planning), writing, and rewriting of assignments that promote "writing to learn" as well as "learning to write." To enable teachers to respond to the assignments, the guidelines also limit the class size to 20 students. Once a syllabus meets the guidelines, the College's WAC Committee approves it and assigns the teacher's section a 700-level number and a WRTG suffix (e.g., BIOL 701-01 EVOLUTION-WRTG). At that point, the section fulfills the third writing requirement in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Because of the support of the English Department, the Dean's office, and teachers throughout the University, the WAC program has grown dramatically. As of May 2001, 92 teachers in the College of Arts & Sciences had completed the workshops. These teachers represent nearly every department in the College. Since August 1994, 11 teachers from Allied Health, 1 from Continuing Education, and 2 from Engineering have also joined their ranks. Consequently, the number of writing-intensive courses has soared. While Allied Health offered its first 19 writing-intensive courses between Fall 1994 and Spring 2001, Arts & Sciences scheduled 243 from Spring 1993 through Spring 2001. In addition, some departments, such as Math, History, Afro-American Studies, Physical Education, and Physics, have started requiring their majors to take a writing-intensive course within their field.

Rationale for a Portfolio Assessment

Since the WAC program seeks to improve student learning and writing in the disciplines, any assessment of WAC must take place in a disciplinary context. For instance, unlike the Freshman English program, the WAC program must measure the extent to which writing improves students’ learning of disciplinary content. The cumulative student and teacher evaluations (1993-2000) and a "paired classes" study of non-WAC vs. WAC versions of the same course suggest that students are using writing as a tool for learning (see Appendix B). However, we must devise more efficient ways to measure "learning from writing."

In the meantime, we can assess students’ ability to write within a discipline. We already know from the 1998 Write to Succeed pilot that a well-staffed Writing Center with close teacher-tutor communication dramatically improved our WAC students’ writing skills (see Appendix B). However, that study was small and dependent upon a one-semester grant. Although the English Department cannot afford to hire enough tutors to extend that study, we still need to know how well WAC students are writing in spite of the shortage of tutors. At the very least, an assessment can provide a baseline for comparison once we expand the Writing Center’s staff and services.

Thus, a year ago, I began to plan a large-scale assessment of students’ progress and proficiency in handling the disciplinary and general conventions of writing. I decided not to organize a pretest-posttest essay assessment like the one underway in the Freshman English Program. The 1994 WAC pretest-posttest study had already revealed that the WAC assessment could not focus on pretest-posttest ratings of one type of essay because WAC teachers—even in the same division—focus on different genres of writing and different disciplinary text conventions (see Appendix B). We needed to assess the genre of writing that a particular teacher taught (e.g., abstracts, lab reports, case studies, or critiques). Also, according to recent research, to gain an accurate picture of what students could do, we needed to assess several writing samples produced by each student at different times of the semester (CCCC). In short, we needed to conduct a "portfolio assessment"—an evaluation of a body of writing produced over an extended period. Many institutions across the U.S. consider portfolio assessment the most valid and reliable form of writing assessment, especially if each portfolio is rated by two or more teachers at the same time and in the same place (CCCC). With this thought in mind, in October 2000, I solicited $2,682 from the Dean and Provost to pay raters to assess portfolios of WAC students’ writing (see the budget in Appendix C).


Collection and Preparation of Portfolios

During the Fall 2000 and Spring 2001 semesters, I requested portfolios from 28 of the 36 scheduled classes. (I excluded three classes that were canceled due to low enrollment and five "duplicate" classes, i.e., classes that were the same as other classes offered during AY 2000-2001.) I received portfolios from only 179 students, or half, of the 358 students enrolled in the 28 classes. However, the collected portfolios represent nearly four fifths of the 28 classes. Table 1 lists the 22 classes by course and division.

Table 1

Number of Portfolios by Division and Class

Class Term Number
HUM 1 Ancient Thought Fall 9
HUM 2 Greek Drama Fall 8
HUM 3 Ancient Law Spring 7
HUM 4 Spartacus & Slave Revolts Spring 7
HUM 5 Individual & Society Spring 8
SOC SCI 1 Pre-Practicum Spring 3a
SOC SCI 2 Comparative Black Literature Spring 4
SOC SCI 3 African World Spring 11a
SOC SCI 4 History of Economic Thought Spring 5
SOC SCI 5 African American History Spring 15
SOC SCI 6 Political Analysis Spring 7
SOC SCI 7 Race & Public Policy Spring 8a
SOC SCI 8 Sociological Theory Fall 14
NAT SCI 1 Evolution Spring 12
NAT SCI 2 Animal Parasitology Spring 4
NAT SCI 3 History & Philosophy of Science Fall 9
NAT SCI 4 Planetary Science Spring 7
NAT SCI 5 Introduction to Analysis I Fall 5a
NAT SCI 6 History & Philosophy of Phys Ed Spring 3a
NAT SCI 7 Human Sexuality Fall 19
NAT SCI 8 Addictive Behavior Spring 8
NAT SCI 9 Abnormal Psychology Fall 6

aevaluated but not rated because of incompleteness or lateness


Having collected the student work, I put as many of the papers in chronological order as I could. After reviewing everything in the folders and recording my observations, I assembled a new set of portfolios for the raters, knowing that the raters would have time to read only a representative set of papers. For these portfolios, I selected only the first drafts that had been marked or graded by the teacher; thus, I excluded all rough drafts and revisions. At this point, I also excluded several incomplete folders that contained only one paper, regardless of the number of drafts. If there were many papers left in a folder, I selected papers from the beginning, middle, and end of the term, staying within the same genre of writing whenever possible. Thus, different portfolios featured different genres (e.g., book reviews vs. abstracts). However, I did not include journal entries unless they were formal pieces of writing and no other genre of formal writing was available. In all, I prepared 149 portfolios, from 17 classes, for rating (see the entries without an asterisk in Table 1).

Selection of Raters

Assessment expert Edward White(1992) has questioned whether English teachers alone can adequately assess portfolios "written in a discourse community we may know nothing about . . . written for contexts we do not share" (p. 72). Therefore, because WAC, unlike Freshman English, promotes the mastery of discipline-specific content and conventions, I recruited WAC teachers as well as English teachers to judge the portfolios and to develop the criteria for scoring. The five WAC teachers represented the Humanities, Social Science, and Natural Science divisions. (I did not recruit any teachers from Fine Arts since there were no Fine Arts portfolios.) On the other hand, the five English teachers were all writing faculty. Three had earned the rank of Master Teacher, and four had taught English courses that, like WAC courses, fulfilled the third writing requirement. I paired the raters so that each portfolio was read by a WAC teacher and an English teacher (see Table 2). Whenever possible, I assigned portfolios to WAC teachers who had expertise in the field represented by the portfolios. When the WAC and English partners could not resolve a dispute about a score, I designated myself as the third rater since I shared both WAC and English concerns.

Table 2

The Five Pairs of WAC and English Raters

WAC   English
Brown, Lee (Philosophy)   Noone, Patricia
Poser, Yvonne (Modern Languages)   Fowler, Cynthia
Williams, Daniel (Math)   Ellison, Kitty
Calloway, Denise (Physical Education)   Harrell, Wade
Ammons, Lila (Afro-American Studies)   Abdullah, Diayyah

Rating Sessions

Developing Criteria. The raters evaluated the new portfolios over a period of two days, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, June 4 was devoted to developing evaluation criteria, then reading and scoring. I opened the session with introductory remarks about the purpose and nature of the assessment. Then, once I had distributed sample scoring guides from the English Department and Educational Testing Service, everyone discussed the following question: "How can we measure undergraduates’ writing progress and proficiency in a discipline-specific context?" Through animated discussion, the raters produced the criteria shown in Table 3 and a five-point scale (A = 5, B =4, C = 3, D = 2, F = 1) for grading the content, arrangement, and style of the students’ writing. By summing the scores for content, arrangement, and style, the raters arrived at a composite portfolio score of 3 to 15 points.

Table 3

WAC and English Raters’ Criteria for an "A"

Fulfillment of the rhetorical task
Familiarity with the subject matter
Analysis or synthesis (if expected)
Appropriate evidence (documented, if necessary)
Appropriate format
Appropriate graphics (if required)
Other aspects of presentation
Correctness (Standard English grammar, spelling, and mechanics)
Artful use of language
Judicious tone
Facility with the language of the discipline
Smooth integration of sources according to the conventions of the discipline

Group Norming. Following the discussion, everyone participated in a "norming session" designed to clarify scoring criteria and resolve disagreements. Using the five-point scale and a score report form (see Appendix D), the group rated a sample portfolio from an economics class. Since the raters were engaged in a portfolio assessment, they graded the whole body of work in the portfolio without marking or scoring individual papers. In other words, they developed a general impression of the collection of papers in order to build a profile of the writer. After reading the sample economics portfolio, all raters agreed that the student had progressed during the term, but their composite scores for proficiency ranged from 8 to 13.5. However, the ensuing discussion built greater consensus.

Scoring and Norming in Pairs. Having developed a consensus, the raters read and scored portfolios from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., stopping approximately every 50 minutes to take a break and to discuss in pairs the portfolios they had just rated in common. During these one-on-one conferences, the raters changed the content, arrangement, and/or style scores of 40% of the portfolios to resolve disagreements. However, in fewer than 10 cases, the raters asked me for my opinion. As a result of their conferences, the raters also decided not to rate 29 portfolios for progress because I could not ascertain the chronological order of the papers or because the portfolio contained only two papers.

During the session, the raters also asked me questions about the curricular context for certain papers. In most cases, I could answer these questions based on my examination of the syllabi, assignment sheets (if available), and other student submissions.

Second Group Norming. Tuesday, June 5 began with the reading of a sample portfolio from a classics course, followed by another group norming session. Once again the initial composite scores varied (from 8 to 11), but subsequent discussion brought the scores in line.

Final Scoring and Norming in Pairs. The rest of Tuesday was devoted to the evaluation of portfolios, punctuated by breaks and conferences roughly every 50 minutes. With extra help from the fastest raters, the group evaluated 140 portfolios. Nine portfolios were not rated for progress or proficiency, apparently because the raters overlooked the folders or ran out of time.

Data Analysis

Progress Ratings. To determine whether students had progressed, I recorded the number of students who had earned a "Yes," "No," or "Unrateable" from both raters. However, whenever the raters disagreed, I served as the final arbiter. After rereading each controversial portfolio, l changed 9 of the 111 progress ratings to "Yes" and 9 to "No."

Proficiency Scores. To compute a portfolio score for proficiency, I averaged the two raters’ composite scores (i.e., the combined scores for content, arrangement, and style). Since a composite score could range from 3 to 15, if the raters’ composite scores were not within two points of one another, I added my score before averaging. I followed this procedure because Johnson et al. (2001) found that it produced the most reliable ratings:

When two raters assign nonexact scores, it appears that combining the scores of raters with the score of an expert results in a higher level of rater reliability than either (a) combining the original two scores, (b) substituting the score of an expert for the original two scores, or (c) combining the score of an expert with the closest rating from either rater. (p. 245)


After adjusting 12 of the 140 pairs of composite scores, I computed means for each student and class. However, I did not compare the means for classes since the number of rated portfolios in five classes was too small (< 5) for meaningful statistical tests. Instead, from the 140 scores, I computed the mean for all WAC students, regardless of class.


Observations Regarding Writing Instruction

As I mentioned above, prior to the scoring session, I reviewed all of the student submissions, including journals, outlines, rough drafts, revisions, and essay exams. My examination of 179 portfolios revealed the following:

  1. WAC teachers are assigning an extraordinary amount of writing. On average, teachers assigned five formal writing assignments during the term. This number does not include the essay exams, informal journal entries, or forms of prewriting (e.g., outlines or annotated bibliographies) that numerous teachers requested. Thus, it compares favorably with the requirements for Freshman English 002, where students must write three essays (in addition to the diagnostic and final exams), plus at least one revision. While the number of formal writing assignments ranged from 1 to 13, the three classes that wrote only one formal paper maintained a journal with frequent entries and (with one exception) wrote multiple drafts of a term paper.
  2. WAC teachers are assigning diverse genres of writing. The formal writing assignments included book and movie reviews, literary criticism, summaries, logical proofs, research term papers, summary-comment papers, position papers, policy analyses, article comparisons, case analyses, scientific "problem" papers, biographies, news reports, descriptions, analyses, syntheses, investigative reports, abstracts, lab reports, speeches, research proposals, scientific reviews of the literature, and, of course, essay exams.
  3. WAC teachers are requiring a lot of prewriting and some rewriting. Most significant, I did not see any "one-shot" research papers "thrown together" without any prewriting or rewriting. In fact, practically every set of folders contained evidence of prewriting. Prewriting took the form of paper proposals, annotated bibliographies, progress reports, and outlines. On the other hand, rewriting normally consisted of composing a second draft. (In one class students had to write up to six drafts of the term paper.) Sometimes revisions were mandatory for the entire class; sometimes they were requested whenever the first draft was deficient. To stimulate revision, several teachers had asked students to review one another’s drafts. However, less than one fifth of the folders contained evidence of peer review, such as comments written by classmates or journal entries that referred to in-class peer review sessions.
  4. Most WAC teachers are responding to student writing in appropriate ways, but a few are not providing sufficient feedback on formal papers. As expected, most teachers responded to informal writing (i.e., person journal entries) with a one-liner and/or a check mark for credit. Other teachers wrote copious comments in the journal notebooks. As for formal writing, while the majority of the teachers used traditional ("mark everything") methods to comment on formal assignments, some experimented with the holistic methods taught in the WAC workshops (e.g., writing a summary comment at the end of the paper or filling out a checklist attached to the paper). However, whether they adopted traditional or holistic techniques, a few teachers did not provide adequate feedback on the grammatical problems in the formal papers. Also, in a few cases the grades did not reflect the seriousness or pervasiveness of certain errors. Many of these errors included fragments, comma splices, run-ons, and subject-verb disagreement—errors for which the Freshman English 002 and 003 syllabi deduct the most points.

Ratings for Progress and Proficiency

Writing Progress. The raters evaluated 111 portfolios for writing progress. As Table 4 reveals, the raters felt that nearly three quarters (72%) of the students had progressed in one or more areas of writing (i.e., content, arrangement, or style).

Table 4

Number of Students Who Progressed as Writers

Division Class   n   Not Rateda   Improved Not Improved  
HUM 1   9   5   0b   4
HUM 2   8   -   7   1
HUM 3   7 - 3 4
HUM 4   7   -   6   1
HUM 5   8 - 5 3
SOC SCI   4   -   4   0
SOC SCI   5   2   3   0
SOC SCI   15   1   6   8
SOC SCI   7   2   4   1
SOC SCI   14   11 2 1
NAT SCI   12 12c - -
NAT SCI   4 2 2 0
NAT SCI   9   -   4   5
NAT SCI   7   1   6   0
NAT SCI   19 1 17 1
NAT SCI   8   1   5   2
NAT SCI   6 - 6 0
TOTAL   149   38   80   31

aMost of these portfolios were not rated because they could not be placed in chronological order or there were only two papers, which had been written at about the same time.

bWhile these portfolios did not reveal measurable improvement, they earned the highest scores.

cSince these papers were anonymous, the raters could not measure individual progress.


Writing Proficiency. The raters scored 140 portfolios for writing proficiency. The paired composite scores suggest that most WAC students are average writers in their disciplines since the mean of all 140 scores equals 10.15 (SD = 2.27) on a scale of 3 to 15, with scores ranging from 3.30 to 15.00. On the five-point scale, 10.15 would be equivalent to 3.38, or a "C." As Table 5 reveals, 10 and 11 are the most common means for a class, and the class means range from 7.71 to 13.40. However, it would be misleading to compare these means since the number of rated portfolios in some classes was quite small.

Table 5

Mean Composite Scores for Writing Proficiency


Division Class   n   Not Rateda   Mean (SD)
HUM 1   9   5   13.40  (1.83)
HUM 2   8   -   11.91   (2.34)
HUM 3   7 - 9.74 (1.48)
HUM 4   7   -   11.54 2.84
HUM 5   8 - 10.28 (1.51)
SOC SCI   4   -   11.78  (1.14)
SOC SCI   5   - 11.46  (1.66)
SOC SCI   15   1 7,71  (2.25)
SOC SCI   7   2   9.32 (3.07)
SOC SCI   14   1 8.05 (2.89)
NAT SCI   12b - 10.30 (0.00)
NAT SCI   4 - 11.08 (0.81)
NAT SCI   9   -   9.91   (1.72)
NAT SCI   7   10.79 (1.82)
NAT SCI   19 - 10.73 (1.64)
NAT SCI   8   -   9.85 (1.43)
NAT SCI   6 - 10.27 (1.05)
TOTAL   149   9  

aApparently, the raters overlooked these folders or ran out of time.

bAlthough these papers were anonymous, they were organized by assignment so that the raters could compute a score for the class as a whole. Without these scores, the overall mean remains virtually unchanged (M = 10.13, SD = 2.38).



The following conclusions emerged from my review of student work and from the raters’ scores:

Writing Instruction. WAC teachers are providing substantive writing instruction: Although the genres of writing vary from course to course, WAC teachers are assigning a great deal of writing, including frequent prewriting but only occasional rewriting. Most WAC teachers are also supplying sufficient feedback on formal papers, but a few need to respond more consistently to grammatical problems.

Writing Progress and Proficiency. While taking a WAC class, most students progressed in one or more areas of writing (i.e., content, arrangement, or style). However, by the end of the term, most WAC students had achieved only an average level of writing proficiency in the discipline.


In light of these findings, I recommend six measures to strengthen the WAC program, some of which I have already initiated this semester (see the timetable for implementation in Appendix E):

  1. Rewriting. As Director, I should encourage WAC teachers to assign more revisions by helping them adopt efficient ways to provide feedback on first drafts. I teach many of these methods during the annual May workshop and post resources on the WAC website ( well, but clearly, that is not enough. Therefore, on August 17, just before the start of this semester, I e-mailed all WAC teachers "Tips for Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum" (see Appendix F). In this message, I reminded the teachers about the "Ah, So-so, Oh,no" method of first-draft response (see Tip #2) and about the benefits of peer review (see Tip #3). To facilitate peer review, I promised to conduct a workshop on how to use the collaborative tools in the Blackboard e-learning program that ISAS will make available to all faculty next term (see Tip #4). I plan to offer my workshop in Locke 105 from 4-5 p.m. on November 14.
  2. Feedback on Grammar. I should also remind WAC teachers to provide more substantive feedback on grammatical problems and to adjust the grades accordingly. Consequently, I attached to my August e-mail message a Proofreading Evaluation Sheet (see Appendix F) in order (a) to focus teachers’ responses on the most serious errors, (b) to allow them to alert students to these problems in a time-saving manner, and (c) to hold students responsible for detecting and correcting errors with the help of a handbook or tutor. Along with the proofreading checklist, I attached the scoring criteria that the WAC and English teachers developed (see Table 3) so that WAC teachers could use it to guide their grading.
  3. Writing Center. The Office of the Provost and/or the Office of the Dean should provide more funds to hire tutors for the English Department’s Writing Center. My experience with the National Network of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs confirms that a WAC program is only as strong as its writing center (NNWACP). To increase the level of progress and proficiency, WAC students need support from English tutors as well as WAC teachers (Harris, 1992). With additional funds, the Director of the Writing Center, Dr. Mary Martin, could recruit, hire, and train excellent undergraduate writers to tutor other undergraduates 8 hours a week for only $1,200 per tutor per academic year. Ideally, each department could provide or receive funds for a Writing Center tutor in its discipline. If the Administration covered the expense, the total for 20 more tutors would amount to less than $25,000 per year.
  4. Freshman English. The English Department should continue to strengthen its Freshman English Program to ensure that weak writers do not pass from Freshman English into the WAC and English classes that satisfy the third writing requirement. Too many WAC students are making errors that should have been virtually eliminated in Freshman English 002 and 003. Presumably, some of the weak WAC writers are transfer students who never enrolled in 002 or 003 at Howard because they received credit for taking freshman composition elsewhere. (I do not know how we can solve this problem as long as transfer credit agreements prevent us from testing and placing these new entrants appropriately.) However, many of the weak WAC students are our own 003 "graduates." Why are they underperforming?
  5. On the one hand, WAC students who excelled in Freshman English may be struggling because in their WAC classes they encounter more complex writing tasks, tasks that require the analysis and synthesis of texts and data. Last year, under the leadership of Director Evora Jones, the Freshman English faculty began to address this issue by insisting that 002 and 003 essays cite evidence from texts, not just the students’ personal experiences. Last year we also revised the departmental final exams for both courses so that they too require writing that demands close reading and documentation.

    On the other hand, grade inflation may also account for the persistence of so many errors beyond 003. Are some 003 writers slipping through the cracks into WAC classes because our grading has been inconsistent? The Freshman English faculty already follow a common grading scale, which is published in the 002 and 003 syllabi. However, last year the Freshman English faculty took additional steps to maintain consistently high standards by turning the departmental final for 002 and 003 into an "exit exam" graded by two or more English teachers: Students who received an unsatisfactory grade (less than a "C") from two teachers could no longer pass the course. Papers that initially received a "pass" and a "fail" were read by a third teacher.

    Since we recently instituted all of these changes, it is too early to assess the impact on the WAC program: After all, last year’s Freshman English students are just beginning to enroll in WAC classes this semester. We will have to wait a few years for the next WAC assessment to gauge the success of our Freshman English reforms.

  6. Standards for Proficiency. Both the grading inconsistencies in the WAC and Freshman English programs suggest that WAC and English teachers should collaborate on the development and maintenance of standards for writing proficiency. On pre-assessment and post-assessment questionnaires, the WAC and English raters indicated that they had profited from the opportunity to discuss scoring criteria and student papers with one another. We should provide more opportunities for such collaboration. Perhaps the Provost or Dean could furnish stipends and food for rating sessions where interested WAC and English teachers can collaborate. In the meantime, I will share the WAC and English teachers’ scoring criteria with the English faculty at our next departmental meeting, just as I have shared it with WAC faculty.
  7. Future WAC Assessments. Finally, I recommend that we conduct another portfolio assessment five years from now, after implementing the changes described above. However, since this assessment proved so time-consuming, the next assessment will require more administrative support, i.e., not only money for a longer rating session but clerical assistance and better compensation for the time the director must devote to it during the summer. Once we have analyzed the new data, we can compare it with the 2000-2001 findings. Such a comparison would allow us to measure the progress of the WAC program in fulfilling one of its major objectives—teaching students to write well within a discipline.



Guidelines for Teachers of Writing-Intensive Courses in the Disciplines

WAC Committee of the College of Arts & Sciences rev. 5/15/96


Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is an interdepartmental program that promotes writing to learn and learning to write in every discipline. Research has shown that student writing in the disciplines, including mathematics and physics, fosters better thinking and active learning. Because writing and learning are intrinsically linked, the WAC program aims to expand the role of writing in courses in each discipline. In addition, it seeks to reinforce writing skills learned in Freshman English while helping students master the text conventions of their chosen discipline. To achieve these goals, nearly half of U.S. colleges and universities have established WAC programs.


Writing-intensive courses in the disciplines are the core of the WAC program at Howard University. They are designed to show students that writing well is essential to success in whatever field of study or career they pursue. In the College of Arts & Sciences, these courses fulfill the third writing requirement (following Freshman English 002 and 003). To enable teachers to respond to the frequent writing assignments, each course is limited to 20 students.

In the Directory of Classes and on transcripts, writing-intensive courses in the disciplines are designated by a 700-level number and a -WRTG suffix. If a course consists of multiple sections, only the 700-level sections will be writing-intensive.


1. No Beginners: Students who have not fulfilled the Freshman English requirement should not enroll in a writing-intensive section of a course, even if other sections of the course are open to freshmen.

2. No Repeaters: Students should not enroll in a writing-intensive section of a course they have already taken.

3. No Change in the Fulfillment of Other Requirements: A writing-intensive section will satisfy the same requirements (e.g., divisional requirements) as other sections of the course.

4. No Additional Credit: To fulfill the third writing requirement, a course must carry at least 3 credits. However, when a 3-credit course fulfills the third writing requirement, it is still worth only 3 credits.



5. No Old Section Number: Normally, when a section becomes writing-intensive, a 700-level number replaces the original number.


All students must have fulfilled the Freshman English requirement (Freshman English 002 and 003). To fulfill the requirement in the College of Arts & Sciences, students must not only pass 002 and 003, but earn a "C" or better in Freshman English 003. Otherwise, they must earn a "C" or better in 004 (the follow-up course for weak writers).


Writing assignments should play many roles. Students will use writing as follows:

1. to ensure that they read carefully

2. to make sense of their lessons

3. to think critically about the subject matter (especially through analysis and synthesis)

4. to organize their thoughts and present them in a comprehensible format

5. to master the text conventions of the discipline (e.g., formats, documentation styles, assumptions, acceptable evidence)

6. to reinforce the skills learned in Freshman English 002 or 003 (including editing skills)


1. Students will spend some class time discussing the writing required for the course.

2. Students will analyze and discuss examples of excellent writing in the discipline.

3. Students will use prewriting strategies (e.g., brainstorming, categorizing, freewriting, diagramming, outlining, and journal-keeping).

4. Students will complete several short writing assignments designed to improve their thinking and writing. These assignments can take many forms. For instance, in addition to formal research papers, lab reports, or essays, students may write rough drafts, journal entries, summaries, research proposals, annotated bibliographies, reviews of literature, book reviews, progress memoranda, and abstracts.

5. Students will be required (through grading incentives) to rewrite some papers. These rewrites should be substantive revisions, not merely the correction of grammatical and spelling errors. To revise, students should occasionally have access to "peer reviews" from their classmates as well as comments from the teacher.

6. The WAC Committee must approve the syllabi for writing-intensive courses.


Teachers should refer students to a Freshman English handbook (e.g., Harbrace, Allyn & Bacon, Little/Brown). In addition, teachers may order writing books specific to their discipline (e.g., the Harper Collins series on writing in biology, art, history, and other fields).


Teachers should evaluate papers not only for an understanding of crucial concepts, but also for the clarity with which those concepts are expressed. In other words, teachers should consider the efficacy of expression (including such matters as unity, coherence, organization, grammar, and spelling). However, teachers need not correct the papers as an English teacher would.

Since students should be writing for various purposes in various stages and in various forms, teachers should vary their responses to writing. Certainly, first and final drafts do not have to be evaluated the same way. In fact, journal entries and some first drafts do not have to be marked or graded at all, just CREDITED. (Moreover, given checklists or guidelines, students can evaluate their classmates’ or their own first drafts.) Even final drafts can receive a variety of responses:

HOLISTIC: Evaluate on the basis of a general impression of the content, arrangement, and style of a text.

FOCUSED: Focus on the 2 or 3 most serious problems in the paper (e.g., inaccuracies, illogical organization, or the five-point errors on the Freshman English syllabi).

LIMITED: Assess the content and organization, while taking into account all English errors before a designated cut-off (e.g., the first 300 words).

RETURNED: Return an unmarked paper because it is so deficient that the student must confer with the teacher or a tutor and rewrite the paper (subject to a late penalty).

TRADITIONAL: Assign points for specific characteristics of the text and mark all errors (see the Freshman English syllabi).


Theory and practice indicate that faculty workshops contribute to the success of writing-intensive courses. Therefore, faculty members wishing to teach such courses will attend a workshop organized by the WAC Committee. The WAC Faculty Workshop will be a hands-on, collaborative venture--an occasion for colleagues to help each other develop syllabi for writing-intensive courses. Interested faculty members will attend 3 sessions (9 a.m. - 12 noon) in mid-May and submit a revised syllabus to the WAC Committee by May 31. When the WAC Committee approves the syllabus, the faculty member will receive a WAC Certificate to include in his or her merit-tenure-and-promotion file.

Only Certified WAC Teachers may teach 700-level courses that fulfill the third writing requirement. Therefore, the following policies apply:

Course Reassignment: If a WAC teacher cannot teach a 700-level course as scheduled, the course must be reassigned to another WAC teacher or canceled.

Team-Teaching: If a 700-level course is team-taught, at least one of the faculty members assigned to the course must be a certified WAC teacher. If this faculty member is the only team member to complete the workshop, s/he is responsible for assigning and responding to the students’ writing. If other faculty members or graduate students share that responsibility, they must also attend the workshop. However, the WAC Committee strongly recommends that all members of the teaching team participate in the workshop, regardless of their roles.

Previous WAC Experience: The WAC Committee will consider petitions from faculty members who wish to be excused from the workshop because of prior experience in a WAC program. A teacher with the requisite experience may conduct a 700-level course after the committee approves the teacher’s syllabus.

The WAC Faculty Workshop will provide resources for developing and evaluating lessons and assignments that will not only help students learn to write but help them "write to learn."

Designing "Writing to Learn" and "Learning to Write" Activities: At the first meeting, participants will explore a variety of purposes, stages, and forms for writing that are not traditionally part of content courses in the sciences or humanities.

Collaborating to Revise Syllabi: At the second meeting, veteran WAC teachers will share their syllabi and answer questions. In addition, WAC Committee members and workshop participants will collaborate on the revision of syllabi.

Handling the Paper Load: At the third meeting, participants will discuss and practice ways to respond to student writing. This session will offer techniques and resources that help teachers handle the paper load more effectively and more easily. Afterward, the participants will finish revising their syllabi and submit them to the WAC Committee.

RESOURCES (updated 10/26/00)

Teachers and students in the WAC program have access to many resources to help them solve writing problems:

WAC Committee: Dr. Teresa M. Redd, Director (6-6770), Dr. Ann Kelly (6-7757), Dr. Lee Brown (6-7358), and Dr. Annette Davis (6-6985).

Word-Processing Workshops: Academic Computing Services and the Center for Academic Reinforcement

Tutorial Assistance: English Department’s Writing Center (Locke 100 and HEC 1024) and Center for Academic Reinforcement (Academic Support Building B, 1st floor lab).

Computer-Assisted Instruction: English Department’s Writing Center (Locke 100)

WAC Website:

Grading Criteria: Freshman English 002 and 003 syllabi

References: Freshman English handbooks (Bedford Guide, Harbrace, Allyn & Bacon, Little/Brown); Barbara Walvoord’s Helping Students Write Well: A Guide for Teachers in All Disciplines (New York: Modern Language Association, 1986).






Acknowledgments: This document updates "Guidelines for Teachers of Writing-Intensive Courses in the Disciplines" (T. Redd & W. Schreck), which incorporated material from "Specifications for Courses Fulfilling the Writing Requirement Above 003" (WAC Ad Hoc Committee) and from "Working Paper on Writing in All Disciplines in the College of Liberal Arts" (A. Kelly).



A Brief History of WAC Assessment at Howard University

Student Evaluations

Method: From Spring 1993 to Spring 2000, students responded to questionnaires measuring their attitudes toward the writing component of their WAC classes. Students coded answers to nine questions about reading, thinking, organizing, and writing, using a Likert-type attitude scale. They also wrote answers to two questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the WAC component.

Results: The combined data show that most students feel that WAC courses are worthwhile, especially as a tool for learning the subject matter of the disciplines. On a scale of 1 to 4, students gave the highest ratings to WAC’s effects on their reading and thinking.

Teacher Evaluations

Method: From Spring 1993 to Spring 2000, teachers responded to questionnaires assessing their attitudes toward the writing component of their WAC classes. Teachers coded answers to the same nine questions that students were asked. However, they wrote responses to six questions about teaching and learning in their classes.

Results: Teachers generally gave their courses Likert ratings that were similar to the averages of the students’ responses. Their written responses (and, in some cases, attached writing samples) confirmed that they were using WAC techniques for prewriting, rewriting, and discussing assignments. Suggestions for improvement varied.

Focus Groups

Method: The WAC Director led and taped discussions with the students and teachers in five WAC classes (biology, math, political science, history, and modern languages) in Spring 1994. Students were asked questions about WAC courses vs. Freshman English, WAC courses vs. other courses in the discipline, writing to learn, and WAC’s effects on their reading, thinking, and writing.

Results: All of the classes felt that writing had enhanced their learning of the subject matter. Many of the students claimed that the WAC course had dramatically improved their thinking, mainly because the requirement to write about texts had improved their reading. Fewer students claimed to be better writers as a result of the WAC courses: The most positive remarks about writing improvement came from the social sciences classes.

Paired Classes Study

Method: After the Fall 1993 semester, the WAC Director and a WAC Committee member from the English Department took advantage of the rare opportunity to compare the final exam grades in WAC and non-WAC sections taught by the same teacher. These included two sections taught by a history professor and two sections taught by a classics professor. The WAC team also compared the term papers in the WAC and non-WAC history sections. The WAC team scored the papers, using blind and holistic rating procedures. Essays were rated on a scale of 1-5 for idea development, support, organization, diction/sentence variety, and mechanics.

Results: Both WAC classes earned more points on the final exam than their non-WAC counterparts did. Moreover, both the history teacher and the WAC team gave the WAC term papers higher grades than they gave the non-WAC term papers. Because of the small sample sizes, the team could not determine whether the differences were statistically significant, but pre-existing ability differences did not account for the WAC advantage.

Pretest-Posttest Study

Method: In Fall 1994, teachers in five WAC classes (history, biology, physical education, modern languages, philosophy) assigned a WAC diagnostic essay ("What do you already know about the subject matter of this course?) and WAC final essay ("What do you know about the subject matter of this course?"). Because of the number of time references embedded in the WAC final essays, the essays could not be scored blindly, as planned Nevertheless, the WAC Director scored the essays holistically for development, organization, and language on a scale of 1-4.

Results: The study revealed that most students knew how to organize and develop a personal expository essay when they enrolled in the WAC classes. What the study did not reveal was how well they could organize and develop the type of disciplinary writing taught in their particular WAC class. Nor did the study indicate how well students could command the style of the discipline. As for general editing skills, there was no consistent improvement.

Write to Succeed Study

Method: The WAC Director analyzed data from the Fall 1998 pilot of the Write to Succeed Program. Teachers in the pilot gave a paper an Incomplete grade (e.g., "IC") if it contained a noteworthy writing problem and referred the student to the Writing Center, where a tutor helped the student edit the paper. Once the student had earned a Success Report from the tutor for successful editing, the teacher raised the paper grade one letter grade. To implement the pilot, the WAC Director received money from the Fund for Academic Excellence to hire and train six additional tutors. At the end of the project, she collected data from a chemistry class and a theatre class as well as Writing Center records.

Results: An analysis of the data revealed that the program (1) ensured that every student referred to the Writing Center earned a Success Report and/or a higher grade, (2) phased out "I" referrals for students who had earned Success Reports—and any others who had received "I" grades previously, and (3) decreased by 80% or more the percentage of a class receiving "I" for a writing assignment.




Note: Since I used the English Department’s facilities (the Locke 100 Writing Center), the catering service and raters’ wages were the only expenses.


Food (for 12)

Monday, June 4

Continental Breakfast  

@$7.50 per person + $20 delivery  


New York Deli Buffet  

@$10.25 per person + $20 delivery  


Wednesday, June 5

Continental Breakfast  

@$7.50 per person + $20 delivery  


American Deli Buffet  

@$8.25 per person + $20 delivery  


Wages (for 11)
11 raters   @$100 per day for 2 days   2,200.00
TOTAL:   $2,682.00


APPENDIX D: Score Report Form

WAC Portfolio Assessment

Score Report

for the ____________________Division


Rater’s Name _______________________

Rater’s Department __________________

Date ______________________________


Student                                                  Progress                          Proficiency

(initials)                                                  Yes or No?        C             A             S             Total


Note: If you wish to change a score after talking with your partner, do NOT cross out the original score. Just write the new score after the old one as follows: 5/6. If your final score totals are not within two points of one another, please show me the portfolio.

APPENDIX E: Timetable for Implementing Recommendations


AY 2001-2002

Work with faculty to encourage rewriting and to improve feedback on grammar.

Seek funding for WAC-English rating sessions for professional development.

Seek funding for 20 additional tutors for the Writing Center.

AY 2002-2003

Hire and train 20 additional tutors for the Writing Center.

Organize WAC-English rating sessions for professional development.

AY 2003-2004

Continue to work with faculty and tutors as described above.

AY 2004-2005

Continue to work with faculty and tutors as described above.

AY 2005-2006

Continue to work with faculty and tutors as described above.

Collect portfolios for another assessment.



APPENDIX F: WAC Tips and Proofreading Sheet



  1. Require more revisions instead of assigning more papers. For instance, require three papers with two revisions instead of five new papers. Research shows that students learn the most from revising, especially in response to useful feedback.
  2. Remember that you can provide useful feedback without marking first drafts. Simply sort drafts into "Ah," "So-so," and "Oh,no" piles as you read them. Then, in class distribute copies (with permission) or read aloud an "Ah" draft for the "So-so" authors to use as a model. As for the authors of the "Oh,no" drafts, schedule conferences with them or refer them to a tutor.
  3. Also, remember that YOU don’t always need to respond to first drafts: Classmates can provide useful feedback for revising if you supply them with guidelines for reviewing one another’s drafts. You can find such guidelines on the WAC web site ( ), or you can simply ask students to apply the criteria you specified when you assigned the paper. Research shows that peer reviewers benefit from the reviewing process—even more than the student author does—since it helps them develop a critical eye to train on their own drafts.
  4. If you can’t allot any class or photocopying time for peer review, try setting up peer reviews via e-mail or via Blackboard 5.5. Students can review one another’s drafts via the e-mail window (No attachments, please!) with a cc: to you for credit. Or, instead, they can use the document exchange feature on the group pages of Blackboard. The group pages can also facilitate any type of teamwork, whether it is collaborative planning, writing, or revising. In addition, Blackboard’s discussion board can support peer review of journal entries, relieving you of the task of responding to so many entries. Would you like to know more? This semester I plan to conduct a workshop about using collaborative tools, so stay tuned for my announcement.
  5. When you evaluate students’ final drafts, don’t forget to tell them how to improve the language. Research shows that you don’t need to mark up the paper. After all, if you always edit students’ papers, not only will you exhaust yourself but you will prevent the students from learning how to detect and correct their own problems. Instead, at the end of a paper, write a comment saying that you see certain serious errors (e.g., poorly constructed sentences or incorrect verbs) or a pattern of distracting errors (e.g., numerous misspellings or apostrophe mistakes). Or just circle items on a proofreading evaluation sheet (see the attached file) and return it with the paper. Then ask the students to correct the problems by the due date.
  6. Resources

  7. If you are teaching a WAC class, take advantage of the Writing Center (Locke 100 and Human Ecology 1024). See the WAC web site for a description of the center ( ) and a referral form that you can print out and duplicate ( ). I urge you to collect a writing sample from your students during the first two weeks of class so that you can refer needy students to the center right away. Don’t wait until midterm after their grades have suffered and when there are only a few weeks to work with a tutor. Ask students to bring you a signed response from the tutor within a week for homework credit, or, if you prefer, on the referral form ask the tutor to e-mail you a response.
  8. What if you’re not teaching a WAC class this term? Well, you can still send students to tutors in the Center for Academic Reinforcement. In addition, you can assign certain students self-grading online exercises and ask them to bring you printouts of their scores for homework credit. The best site is Darling’s Grammar ( ).

  9. Take advantage of the library. Require students to cite some reputable library sources. (However, when students consult web sites, refer them to the "Checklist for Evaluating Web Sites" on the WAC web ( ). Please also take advantage of the library’s Digital Classroom. The librarians can conduct hands-on computer workshops for your classes to help students find and evaluate sources. See the library’s web page for details and for an online request form. By the way, two librarians—Frances Zeigler and Leslie Brown—have attended the WAC workshops, so they, in particular, should understand your needs.
  10. Requirements

  11. Help students keep track of their problems and progress. Even though I don’t plan to collect portfolios this year, consider asking students to keep their outlines and drafts in a folder. Make sure they DATE and LABEL (e.g., Book Review 2 ) each draft so that they can put their work in chronological order; otherwise no one can assess their progress. (I was barely able to organize the WAC papers for rating because so many lacked dates or labels.) If you ask students to bring well-organized, up-to-date folders to conferences, you may also find that the portfolios will help you assist the student.
  12. Require students to use the appropriate documentation style (e.g., APA, MLA, CBE, CMS) in their formal papers. The WAC and English raters agreed that our students need more practice using the academic conventions of their disciplines. So specify the preferred style in your syllabus and/or assignment sheet. Also, refer students to the WAC web site ( and their Freshman English handbook for examples. Keep in mind that (1) Freshman English instructors teach only MLA since it is the appropriate style for their course, and (2) many students won’t use even MLA unless you insist upon it.
  13. Try to prevent plagiarism. Most of us can’t afford to spend time tracking down evidence of plagiarism or paying for commercial web services to do that work for us. Therefore, discourage plagiarism by asking to see stages of writing (e.g., notecards, outlines, or first drafts) and by including in your syllabus a statement such as the following: "If I suspect plagiarism, I reserve the right to inspect your sources or to have you rewrite a paper in my office. However, if I find evidence of plagiarism, you will receive a ‘0’ for the assignment." For a definition of plagiarism, you can refer students to their Freshman English handbooks or the English Department’s "Statement on Plagiarism" in their 002 and 003 syllabi. (I’ll post the "Statement" when I update the WAC web site.)
  14. Assessment

  15. If you are teaching a WAC course, make sure your grades for final drafts reflect the quality of the students’ writing as well as their grasp of the subject matter. In a course that fulfills a writing requirement, a paper riddled with errors should not receive an "A," no matter how accurate and organized the content might be. So what should you do? Here are some options:

On the other hand, if you’re not teaching a WAC course, feel free to substitute a revision grade for an earlier grade. Or consider giving an "I" grade. For instance, if the content of a paper merits a "B" but the paper is disorganized or filled with errors, give the paper an "IC." Then, if the student submits a successful revision within a week, you can raise the grade (e.g., from an "IC" to a "B").

  1. Don’t forget to use WAC techniques to improve outcomes assessment. Many of the outcomes assessment strategies that the administration is promoting are strategies that I have taught in the WAC workshops for years.
  2. Remember the five-minute in-class writing assignment? At the start of a class, you announce that, during the last five minutes of class, students must write a response to a question about the lesson. Not only does this strategy encourage students to pay more attention in class, but it also gives you immediate feedback on your teaching. At first, you might wonder how to respond to all of that in-class writing. Have no fear. You can respond effectively without marking it. Simply give the students classwork credit (e.g., one point). If they misunderstood a concept, clear up the confusion during the next class period or conference. You can also return the Proofreading Evaluation Sheet and/or Writing Center Referral Form with papers that are riddled with errors.

    Also, remember that the double-entry log used for outcomes assessment is also one version of a WAC journal: Students divide the page vertically and write a math problem, lecture notes, or a journal entry on one side of the page. Then on the opposite half, they comment on the reasoning or significance of what they have written. For more ideas, see the "Write to Learn" tips on the WAC web site (, or for more student examples, see your "Write to Learn" handout from your WAC workshop. (If you need another copy, e-mail me and I’ll send you a replacement by campus mail.)


  3. Finally don’t wait until the semester is over to tell me about a problem you’re having in your WAC course. Let me know while I can help! You can reach me by e-mail or phone (6-6770).


(to supplement my comments

on the content and organization of your paper)


While reading your paper, I noticed a pattern of confusing, stigmatizing, or distracting errors. I have refrained from marking all of those errors so that you can practice detecting as well as correcting them. Using a grammar handbook, please look up the topics I have circled below and then correct your errors, UNDERLINING YOUR CHANGES. If you correct your errors by ___________, you may earn additional points.


SENTENCES (e.g., run-ons, comma splices, fragments, awkward construction)

VERBS (e.g., incorrect form, lack of agreement, wrong tense)

NOUNS (e.g., missing or incorrect plurals)

PRONOUNS (e.g., wrong form, lack of agreement, vague reference)


WORD CHOICE (e.g., incorrect word form, awkward transition, wrong word)


PUNCTUATION (e.g., apostrophes, commas, semicolons, quotation marks)


CITATION FORMAT (e.g., missing or incorrect form of MLA, APA, CBE, CMS)

OTHER _______________________________________________________






Conference on College Composition & Communication (1998). Writing assessment: A position         statement [Online]. Available:

Harris, M. (1992). The writing center and tutoring in WAC programs. In S. McLeod & M. Soven             (Eds.), Writing across the curriculum: A guide to developing programs (pp. 154-174).              Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Johnson, R., Penny, J., & Gordon, B. (2001). Score resolution and the interrater reliability of holistic         scores in rating essays. Written Communication, 18, 229-249.

National Network of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs (2001). Available:                              

White, E. (1992). Assigning, responding, evaluating (2nd ed). New York: St. Martin’s Press.