Most schools make students satisfy some sort of writing requirement before graduation. For many students, that will mean passing a couple of courses designated as “writing intensive” — but at Virginia’s Old Dominion University, they do things differently. Or at least they used to. In order to graduate, ODU seniors had to pass a writing test in which they basically had to sit down and write something. But way too many couldn’t do that — and so the requirement is being phased out.
Now, there’s something to be said about ODU’s writing test being outdated; can one timed, 500-word essay really show a student’s writing ability? As Inside Higher Ed notes, “Most writing experts today advocate for a more comprehensive approach to assessing student abilities.” A writing portfolio, or a decent grade in a writing-intensive course, is going to say a lot more about a student’s ability to write than one brief test. And ODU isn’t ditching a writing requirement entirely — instead, students will have to pass two English courses and one writing-intensive course in order to graduate.
But something about the situation doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s because I’ve interacted with various undergraduate (and graduate!) student populations in my time as a writing teacher, and have met way too many students who can’t write at all. (When you find yourself writing “A sentence needs a subject and a verb” in the margin more than five times on a two-page paper, you know things are dire.) With papers and paper-writing services available all over the internet, it’s easy enough to cheat your way to passing a writing-intensive class. But in the real world, you probably will have to sit down and write something under time constraints — and while not all of us are Tolstoys, it shouldn’t be so hard for a college graduate to come up with decently functional prose.
I realize that what I’m saying might be the English major’s equivalent to “kids these days play their music too darn loud,” but so be it: kids these days can’t write. (I’m not the only one saying it, either.) Blame the text messages or high schools obsessed with teaching to the test; blame reality television or SparkNotes.com. But if college seniors keep failing a simple writing test, maybe it’s not the writing test’s fault.
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