In this article, the authors provide an overview of the development and evolution of a collaborative set of relationships amongst writing faculty at a research university, community colleges, and high schools. Prompted by concerns about challenges facing students transitioning to a four-year university from local high schools and community colleges, the authors worked to establish networks and workshops that would allow literacy and writing specialists from all segments the opportunity to share data, understand each others' programs, and work toward aligning curricula to facilitate student success.
According to the document Advancing Student Success in California Community Colleges: The Recommendations of the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force, community college students are entering our system “under-prepared for college-level work” (15): “70 to 90 percent of first-time students who take an assessment test require remediation in English, math, or both” (15). The report analyzes reasons for student under-preparation and notes that students and parents are often unaware that student skills do not match college expectations:
Currently, K-12 and post-secondary education policies related to standards, curriculum, and assessment are not well aligned to communicate either clear expectations for college and career readiness or to support a smooth transition for high school graduates. Within the K-12 system, students and parents receive conflicting messages about expectations for high school completion because the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) measures English and mathematics skills that are far below the standards adopted for 11th and 12th grade curriculum. Thus, many students have been led to believe that they are ready to graduate and proceed on to colleges without actually having met grade-level standards. (16)
This pattern of under-preparation and inflated perceptions of preparation is often repeated as community college students transfer to four-year institutions, a reality faculty attending workshops in expectations for writing at UCI have recently discovered. In an attempt to align curricula and to establish strong working relationships with our colleagues at UCI and with area high schools, faculty at IVC, in conjunction with UCI Campus Writing Director Jonathan Alexander, have conducted a series of workshops over the past three years that anticipated the Student Success Task Force Recommendation that community colleges, colleges and universities, as well as K-12 schools, be “proactive” (16) in articulating expectations and assessing and implementing strategies for meeting those expectations:
Absent proactive involvement of the Community Colleges—together with our higher education and K-12 partners—the SBE [State Board of Education] will have no choice but to move forward to define college and career readiness and determine the best means of measuring those standards, based on its understanding of the needs of higher education. The active participation of the Community Colleges in this work is a vastly superior approach.
Aligning K-12 and community college standards for college and career readiness is a long-term goal that will require a significant investment of time and energy that the Task Force believes will pay off by streamlining student transition to college and reducing the academic deficiencies of entering students. (16)
Initially, the UCI-IVC workshops focused on articulation between UCI and the community colleges and between the community colleges and local high schools. However, as our networks have strengthened, we are expanding our scope to bridge all segments in order to address K-12/community college/UCI articulation and program improvement. Here’s our story.
In the fall of 2008, in response to concerns expressed by UC, Irvine faculty that transfer students are often under-prepared for upper-division work, Dr. Jonathan Alexander, Campus Writing Director at UCI, convened a workshop for faculty of area community colleges. The workshop focused on expectations for incoming transfer students, alignment of curricula of first-semester and second-semester transfer institutions with the alignment of comparable UCI lower-division courses, and the articulation of community college curricula with expectations for students in UCI’s required upper-division writing course for each discipline. Discussion focused on ways that community colleges could revise curricula to meet UCI expectations for upper-division writing.
This initial meeting was the first in a series of collaborations between UCI and IVC. A follow-up workshop focusing on upper-division writing was held at UCI the following fall, in 2009. At this workshop, community college faculty were confronted with some harsh truths about our transfer students and their ability to succeed in upper-division writing classes taught by faculty in their majors. Alexander presented data from UCI assessments of upper-division writing courses that signaled potential challenges for transfer students as opposed to students who had worked through UCI’s lower-division writing courses. For instance, in one upper-division large-lecture class, of 24 students identified as “not-ready-for college-work,” 22 were transfer students. In working to analyze such data, the UCI articulation officer for Humanities and the Campus Writing instructor collected and evaluated first- and second-semester writing curricula from area community colleges. While colleges were not named at our meeting, curricula were shared, and areas of weakness were noted. In response, the group attending requested follow-up meetings that would focus on ways to improve curriculum and instruction in the community colleges and to ensure alignment with UCI expectations for writing.
As a result in order to address these issues, Alexander and Professor Brenda Borron (IVC) conducted a workshop at Irvine Valley College in April 2010. At this workshop, over 60 area community college counselors and faculty in English and other disciplines discussed expectations for student writing and ways those expectations match expectations at UCI. Alexander provided an overview of upper-division writing courses and rubrics and Professors Robin Scarcella and Rebecca Beck addressed “Academic English,” focusing on the challenges faced by students who are multilingual or learning English as a second (and sometimes third) language. Next, two “norming workshops” based on UCI upper-division writing papers and the UCI upper-division writing rubric were conducted at IVC in February of 2011. Using a “hands-on” approach, Alexander and Borron had community college faculty work through the rubric and score actual student writing for effectiveness in critical thinking, organization, use of sources, and language fluency. The exercise resulted in some of the most robust discussions about expectations for college-level writing that any participant had ever had. Irvine Unified faculty were invited to attend these normings, and two IUSD faculty were able to attend, even though the workshop was held on a class day for IUSD.
As a follow-up to the previous activities, in May 2011, UCI hosted a two-and-a-half day summer institute on writing pedagogy. Funding for this institute was initiated by Dr. Sharon Salinger, Dean of Undergraduate Education at UCI, and the institute was funded through the system-wide UC Office of the President. Participants were selected through an application process. Topics for the institute included discussion of the following: college-level assignments, rubrics, and curricula; A Statement of Competencies Expected of Students Entering California’s Public Colleges and Universities, a joint publication of the Academic Senates of the UCs, the CSUs, and the UCs (presented by Professor Kate Clark); the Common Core for Language Arts and its implementation in K-12 (presented by Dr. Carol Booth Olson, associate professor of Education at UCI); sharing of strategies for teaching aspects of research-based writing and the curriculum for 39C, UCI’s course in research and writing; the Framework for Success in Post-secondary Writing, a joint publication of the Writing Project Administrators, the National Writing Project, and the National Council of Teachers of English (presented by Dr. Linda Adler-Kasner, Director of Writing Programs at UC Santa Barbara); and a presentation on working to prepare second language learners for the demands of Academic English (by UCI professors Robin Scarcella and Rebecca Beck from Academic English at UCI). Evaluations of this event were stellar, with participants ranking it as a top-tier event that was “useful,” “engaging,” “stimulating” and one that offered faculty the chance to hear and learn from one another.
Professor Olson’s presentation on the Common Core alerted community college faculty that changes will be occurring in K-12 curricula and standards with the implementation of the Common Core Standards for Language Arts in California in 2014. According to the Student Success Task Force Recommendations, implementation of the Common Core will provide an opportunity for interaction with secondary and post-secondary faculty:
In August 2010, the State Board of Education (SBE) adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and joined the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium in May 2011 to develop a new K-12 assessment system based on the CCSS. Under federal requirements, the new 11th grade assessment must include an assessment of college and career readiness. (16)
According to the Task Force, “The state’s transition to the CCSS provides an ideal opportunity for collaboration among all parties to collectively refine the definition of college readiness upon which the 11th and 12th grade curriculum frameworks and 11th grade assessments will be built” (16). The task force goes on to specify the ways to align expectations:
The implementation of these state-level reforms [those associated with the Common Core State Standards] presents an ideal opportunity for the state to develop curriculum frameworks and assessments that align expectations and standards across public education and the higher education systems and to address policy gaps that have historically undermined efforts to set clear expectations for college or career readiness and to support a smooth transition for high school graduates. (16)
On a parallel track, as UCI and IVC have worked with area community colleges, the writing faculty at IVC have worked with our secondary-education partners. In April, 2009, IVC faculty hosted a workshop for area high school faculty in English. At this workshop, faculty discussed IVC’s philosophy of writing and minimum standards for writing classes, described IVC’s two assessment tests for placement, conducted a mini-norming of student papers for the IVC Writing Sample, and addressed concerns regarding the low numbers of students placing into Writing 1, our first-semester freshman composition course.
A second high school workshop was conducted in the June of 2011 with English faculty from Irvine Unified School District. This workshop was initiated through IUSD faculty who had attended one of the spring UCI-IVC norming workshops. Thirty IUSD faculty participated in a lively day-long workshop that included norming of papers, discussion of expectations, strategies for teaching, and barriers to success. This workshop not only strengthened the IVC-IUSD bridge, but it strengthened the UCI-IVC-IUSD bridge as well, since one of the speakers at the workshop was Dr. Jonathan Alexander. As a consequence of the success of this meeting, a follow-up workshop for over 100 IUSD English faculty is scheduled for March. At this workshop, Professor Kurt Meyer (IVC) and Dr. Jonathan Alexander (UCI) will work with IUSD to build on the work begun last spring.
Writing faculty at IVC became acutely aware of the Common Core through UCI’s Summer Institute on Writing Pedagogy, and, as a result, the faculty requested that representatives from the Orange County Department of Education discuss The Common Core at a fall, 2011 FLEX activity. At this meeting, OCDE instructional specialists Joy Oseguera and Joan Perez presented the Common Core standards and discussed with IVC faculty ways the implementation of the new standards will change secondary-school English instruction and foster student preparedness for postsecondary work.
Perhaps most importantly, as news of the collaborations among English faculty at IVC, UCI, and area secondary schools spread, Tustin High School and El Toro High School requested a workshop, currently scheduled for April 9. This workshop will focus on expectations for incoming students; IVC assessment tests and student placement; the norming of student essays from the IVC first-day Departmental Diagnostic; the IVC writing department’s philosophy of education, curricular offerings, and minimum standards; expectations for students entering UCI; and Academic Literacy. A discussion of the relationship of IVC expectations for writing and the implementation of the Common Core is also planned.
As we have come to establish networks, we have learned that the expectations delineated in the State Standards Common Core for Language Arts, Academic Literacy: A Statement of Competencies Expected of Students Entering California’s Public Colleges and Universities, and the WPA/NWP/NCTE Frameworks for Post-secondary Writing can create a rich context for writing instruction in high schools, colleges and universities and establish a basis for articulation that will allow a more seamless transition among our institutions. Throughout, we have focused on helping each other help students develop the right “habits of mind” for college work—an openness to explore, to learn, and to discover through writing. We like to think that we have modeled such exploration and openness in our own dialogues with one another, our collaborative bridge building, and our unflinching commitment to looking at data about our students and learning from it.
As a direct consequence of this meshing of our communities, the implementation of our standards and frameworks, and the desire among all of us to help our students succeed, UCI and IVC plan to conduct a May mini-conference based on the Common Core, the WPA frameworks, and the Academic Literacy Document. The conference will be held on May 11th, 2012 in the Performing Arts Center at IVC. Registration will begin at 3:30. A light supper will be served. Conference presentations will begin at 4:30 and will run till 7:30. Speakers include Professor Linda Adler-Kasner (UC Santa Barbara), Joy Oseguera and Mary Funaoka (OCDE), Professor Carol Booth Olson (UCI), and Professor Kate Clark (professor emerita, IVC). There is no charge for conference registration. Interested faculty should rsvp to Dr. Jonathan Alexander’s administrative assistant Iveta Cruise at email@example.com.
California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force. Advancing Student Success in California Community Colleges: The Recommendations of the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force, Final Report. California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 Jan. 2012. http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/PolicyInAction/StudentSuccessTaskForce.aspx
Council of Writing Program Administrators National Council of Teachers of English National Writing Project. Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing. CWPA, NCTE & NWP. 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 18 Jan. 2012.
Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates of the California Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California. Academic Literacy: A Statement of Competencies Expected of Students Entering California’s Public Colleges and Universities. Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates (ICAS). Spring 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2012.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The Common Core State Standards Initiative: Preparing America’s Students for College and Career. NGA Center and CCSSO. n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2012.
UCI Campus Writing Coordinator Assessment Reports. University of California Campus Writing Coordinator. n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2012.