Q & A:
Composition Placement 
and Provisional Admissions


If a student takes the Montana University System Writing Assessment as a junior and scores poorly and retakes it as a senior and does better, how does that score get reported properly? Whose responsibility is it to get it to the correct schools? How will "they" (whoever "they" are) know what score prevails?  

The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education sends the scores electronically to the admissions offices on all of the Montana University Campuses.   Because OCHE doesn’t know which campus the high school junior will attend, every campus gets all the scores.

The campuses are instructed to look at the most recent score.  For example, if, as a junior, the student had a score below the threshold, admissions staff should check three other sources:  1) ACT Optional Writing Exam; 2) SAT; 3) MUSWA for the most current year.  They should use the highest of these scores for admission and placement.  Testing, scoring, and reporting dates for the MUSWA are early so that students have their scores before the registration deadlines for ACT and SAT.  If their scores are low, students can register to take the June ACT or SAT to over-ride that low score. 

Do all universities and colleges in Montana get MUS scores? If so, who reports them? Or, is it the high schools/counselors job to get scores to post-secondary institutions?

The MUS campuses get the scores from OCHE.  OCHE also sends labels for high school counselors to stick on high school transcripts.  Also, OCHE sends the scores electronically to every high school so that they can put them into their own databases and include them on transcripts that they may produce electronically, if they have that capacity.  In the future, OCHE hopes to have all the scores available to access electronically on a password-protected website.

Does the provisional status still apply to admission if a student scores 2.5 or lower on the MUS? To clarify then, a student applying to a four-year program (for example, at UM-Missoula) would both be admitted provisionally and be placed into remedial composition (such as WRIT 095)?

Yes—a student provisionally admitted is placed in a remedial course.   Essentially, provisional admission means that students are in provisional status until they can demonstrate proficiency by earning a C- or better in the remedial composition course (such as WRIT 095) or earning an acceptable score on a placement exam. 

However, students should not be admitted to a four-year campus if they do not have the skills to succeed on that campus.  Many students who score below 2.5 on the MUSWA may also score below 18 on the math section of the ACT, have low composite test scores, and may not have completed the College Preparatory Program in high school.  Such students should not be admitted to a four-year program until they are ready.  In general, a student who writes a “2” essay on the MUSWA, or a “4” on the ACT, is not prepared to succeed in a four-year program.

What if a student tested poorly on the MUSWA (getting a 2.0, let's say), but took the ACT later and achieved a score worthy of placement into college-level composition. What score prevails?  (For example, a student who scored 2.5 on MUSWA, may want to take the ACT Optional Writing Test to try and improve for better placement. What score "wins out," so to speak?  Who will handle all that?

OCHE encourages students who score below 3.5 to work on their skills then take the MUSWA as seniors or to take the ACT Optional Writing Test.  This doesn’t mean that the MUSWA is harder.  It means that it served as a wake-up call to the student.  Students may use the MUSWA as practice to see how they will perform on a timed, prompted test.  The highest score trumps the other scores.  At the same time, most teachers are working diligently to encourage students to do their best on the MUSWA on the first try.  That saves time and money.

Isn’t Provisional Admission essentially open-enrollment with mandatory good advising, resembling the open-enrollment policies of the 1980’s with an incredibly cumbersome mandatory advising policy?

Admissions requirements to the four-year programs of the MUS include several provisions: the College Preparatory Program; math and writing proficiency; and either a minimum composite score on a college entrance exam, GPA, or class rank.  Admissions staff should weigh all these factors to determine if a student has the necessary preparation for success in a post-secondary environment.  The most important audiences of admissions standards are students, parents, and high school staff.  Communicating to students that “to be fully admitted,” you must attain a certain skill level in mathematics and writing sets a clear target and can have the effect of improving those skills.  Other important audiences for admissions standards are bureaucracies and legislators.  Provisional admission communicates to them that we are not shutting these students out, but rather we giving them the opportunity to prove their abilities once they arrive on campus.  Finally, provisional admission communicates to advisors, tutoring centers, and developmental educators on campus that good advising is mandatory.  It may be cumbersome, but a campus should do what is necessary to assist at-risk students.  This can improve retention rates.

Is it realistic to ensure that each student meets the admission requirement within a certain time frame?  What if the student transfers in that time frame?  What if the student takes a semester or two off?  What if the student starts to attend part-time? 

Attaching time frames to academic policy is not unusual.  For, example, Policies 301.8 and 301.9 on Academic Probation and Suspension also have time frames that require monitoring.  As a system policy, provisional admission applies across all the four-year programs, so that if a student transfers to another four-year program, the provisional admission status follows him/her.  Students must take the necessary coursework or achieve the threshold test score within three semesters of attendance or 32 credits.  A semester not in attendance, or not earning credits, would not count toward that time limit.  Some campuses advise students who do not meet admissions requirements to enter as a part-time student because part-time students are not subject to these admissions requirements.  However, once a student has been admitted provisionally to a four-year program, as a full-time student, he/she would be subject to the operational rule governing provisional admission: this status must be changed within “three semesters or the completion of 32 credits in the Montana University System, whichever event occurs first.”

Are campuses really going to force students to withdraw from school after three successful semesters if they fail to sign up for a particular course?  If so, what are the political consequences of this action? 

Students who have not taken any mathematics or writing courses during their first three semesters of attendance could hardly be called “successful.”  Math and writing are the basic tools used in other courses.  Are advisors really going to force students to sign up for the courses they must have in order to retain these students?   The political consequences of ignoring Regents’ policies, developed through processes that involve input from a variety of perspectives, including the K-12 community, seem more negative than the consequences of advising students to follow policy and enforcing those policies.

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