Writing Proficiency

Scoring Rubric

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Montana Transitions from MUSWA to ACT Plus Writing

The Montana University System Writing Assessment was administered to 7,490 students for the last time in February of 2012.  Results indicated that 74.1% of all students taking the MUSWA tested ready for college composition.  The research about writing proficiency reported in the newsletters available on this website remains relevant to improving instruction in writing.  Graduate students interested in pursuing a topic related to student writing are encouraged to contact jan.clinard@umhelena.edu for additional data and writing samples.

Currently, the Board of Regents’ Writing Proficiency Policy sets thresholds of 7 on the ACT Writing Test or 18 on the combined English/writing ACT score and 3.5 on the MUSWA.  The MUSWA threshold will remain in policy for at least two years to accommodate students as they complete high school and move on to college.  

To assist with the transition, teachers may wish to consult pages 12-14 and 28-31 of the Practical Guide to Writing Proficiency which includes the ACT scoring rubric and an analysis of how the MUSWA and ACT rubrics compare.   ACT Plus Writing will be administered in all of Montana’s high school in April of 2013, at no cost to students.  For more information, go to: http://opi.mt.gov/Curriculum/MontCAS/index.html#gpm1_11.

Remediation Rates in Composition Show Dramatic Decline

While the rest of the country frets over remediation rates, the preparation levels of Montana's recent high school graduates have been improving. Over the past ten years, the MUSWA has worked with hundreds of high school teachers to improve readiness for college English, resulting in a decline in remediation rates in college composition from 15% in 2005 to 8% in 2011. (Remediation rates in composition are lower than those in mathematics.  For more detail, go to: http://mus.edu/data/briefs/Remediation-One-pager.pdf.)


Montana’s two-year and four-year campuses use the highest writing score from the MUSWA, ACT Optional Writing Test, or SAT Essay to determine if students have demonstrated writing proficiency for placement into college-level composition and full admission to the four-year campuses.  Students who meet the proficiency threshold for admission are exempted from taking a placement exam on campus during freshman orientation.  Students who score below 7 on the ACT Writing Tests or 3.5 on the MUSWA are provisionally admitted and placed into developmental courses unless they challenge their placement by taking another placement test.  See policies on the sidebar.

The Writing Proficiency Policy (Part I.C. of Policy 301.1):

  • Informs high school juniors if they are on target to enter a freshman composition course that is developmental or a composition course that will count toward core or degree requirements;

  • Ensures that students take the developmental course they need during their first year in college; and

  • Identifies students who need more intensive writing instruction as high school seniors in order to graduate at the “proficient” level in writing.

In November, 2007, the Board of Regents passed a Composition Placement Policy, which brings consistency to the placement practices on the MUS campuses and allows students to use their score on the MUSWA, ACT, or SAT to be placed into credit-bearing, college-level composition courses.  See Policy 301.17 for details.

The National Scene

Writing Proficiency has become a national issue, as described in The Neglected "R", The Need for a Writing Revolution. To address this issue and help schools improve their writing programs, the Montana University System has studied this issue in depth by administering the Montana University System Writing Assessment. An alignment document describes how the scoring rubric was developed to reflect Montana's Writing Content Standards.  More recently, governors and state school superintendents have developed a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics.  These Common Core State Standards are closely matched to the purpose and scoring rubric of the MUS Writing Assessment.

Many colleges and universities require that students submit a writing assessment score for admission.  The following campuses, frequently chosen by Montana graduates, now require either the ACT with writing or the SAT:  University of Washington, Washington State University, Oregon State University, Stanford University, University of Puget Sound, Harvard University, Portland State University, University of Southern California, Willamette University, Whitman College, New York University, Boston University, University of California, Princeton University, Yale University, Northwestern University, and Dickinson State University.

The newsletter archive contains tables, graphs, and charts with statistical analysis of MUS Writing Assessment results since 2001. It is noteworthy that inter-rater reliability has been high throughout the project, calculated at .86 (Cronbach's alpha). Intensive training and consistent application of the scoring rubric helps achieve this inter-rater reliability rate.

ACT's website provides assistance in teaching the persuasive essay. See http://www.act.org/aap/writing/highschool/download.html (click on "ACT Assessment at a Glance").

Teachers from Helena High School have developed a website with resources and ideas for teaching the persuasive essay, http://www.hhs.helena.k12.mt.us/Teacherlinks/Oconnorj/persuasion.html.

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