Placement of ESL Students in Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs

Brown, J. D.
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Four years ago, a writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC) program was established at the University of Hawai'i. As part of that program, new English composition courses were implemented and placement testing for writing courses was mandated for all incoming undergraduate students on the campus- native speakers and ESL students alike. As a result, all new freshmen are assigned by placement tests to one of six composition courses: accelerated composition, regular composition, regular composition with required laboratory, remedial composition, regular ESL composition or preparatory ESL composition. The five-hour Manoa Writing Placement Examination (MWPE) requires students to write on two topics and revise both essays later in the day. ESL students were also required to sit the three-hour English Language Institute Placement Test (ELIPT), which has subtests for ESL listening, reading and writing skills. This paper explores the place of ESL students in such a WAC placement testing system. The data for this study are based on an entire year's administrations of the MWPE (N = 1769 incoming freshmen), and of the ELIPT (N = 470 incoming international students). Not surprisingly, the position of the ESL students is low in the overall distribution of MWPE scores. The ways in which foreign students are identified at UHM are discussed in light of these results. In addition, the relative reliability and validity of the MWPE and the ELIPT are examined for appropriateness in making decisions about the placement of ESL students. The results are further examined in terms of how ESL testing and decision making were affected by these university-wide policies.
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