Writing Assessment

The primary component of our approach to core education assessment is targeting our efforts on multi-year, targeted projects to understand and improve specific domains of core education. The first instance of this targeted approach focuses on the teaching and learning of written communication.  

The challenge

Written communication is taught within the Composition Program and in more than 60 percent of Core Education courses; it’s listed as a specific learning outcome for more than 70 percent of UO majors and is ranked as the most important career competency by employers – it is truly a shared goal for UO students’ learning.   

Nonetheless, we may lack a shared understanding of what students are meant to learn at different points in their writing education and how we can build on one another’s work. Faculty across the curriculum are interested in drawing on practical and research-informed practices for teaching with writing—how do we know what works and how to focus our efforts?  

We started our assessment project in the composition program, the core education writing requirement that most students complete in their first year at UO. We worked with composition instructors to revise their writing program learning outcomes in order to better align writing teaching in core education composition courses and to better understand the intended learning for students in their foundational writing experiences in the core education curriculum. Next, we surveyed students as they completed composition courses to understand how their perceptions of their learning aligned with the newly developed composition program objectives. We also asked about students’ own goals for developing as writers at UO and what aspects of writing they are the least confident in. The findings are useful for better supporting students writing development across the curriculum. 

Phase 1: updating composition program outcomes

The Writing and Assessment CAIT was the first phase of a multi-year project aimed at developing a shared understanding of the objectives and teaching approaches that support student writing across the undergraduate curriculum. This CAIT aimed to:  

  1. Revise the learning objectives of the Composition Program,  
  2. Begin to develop a shared understanding of these goals for Writing faculty, students, and other UO colleagues,  
  3. Assess student learning in alignment with the objectives the group determines to be essential, and  
  4. Articulate how the composition program objectives align with core education goals for written communication and state-wide writing objectives. 

Working together for over a year, the Writing and Assessment CAIT developed a new set of updated program learning objectives. The process began with envisioning what skills and abilities students ought to have when leaving UO in order to be empowered and successful written communicators. From this process, the group further refined the goals, reflecting on the previous program objectives, core education learning objectives for written communication, the state-wide OWEAC objectives for writing courses, and by reflecting on the role of the composition program. The group solicited feedback about the drafted objectives from stakeholders across UO, including librarians, other Composition and English colleagues, and other faculty who focus on disciplinary writing. The updated program learning outcomes were approved in Spring 2022 by the English department. The outcomes are:  

  Teaching Guide

Writing in Context 

Develop arguments in multiple genres that are relevant to students and to the audiences to which they’re addressed.   

Guide: Writing in Context

Research and Inquiry 

Engage with primary, scholarly, and public sources to enrich a process of inquiry and inform students’ writing.   

Guide: Research and Inquiry


Analyze how writers reflect, challenge, and transform their discourse communities, including in their relationship to formal and stylistic conventions.  

Guide: Analysis

Agency and Positionality 

Recognize lived experience as a source of authority in writing, reading, and discourse.  

Guide: Feedback and Revision

Feedback and Revision 

Give and receive constructive feedback; revise based on feedback, further research, and reflection.  

Guide: Feedback and Revision 

Transferring Skills 

Apply the processes and strategies of writing to engage with new contexts and communities in the University of Oregon and beyond it.  

Guide: Transferring Skills

In order to support the goal of developing a truly shared understanding of goals for written communication across UO, the CAIT members also developed teaching guides for each program learning outcome. In communicating and gathering feedback from other groups about the Composition Program outcomes, the group came to realize that in many cases, the outcomes alone were insufficient to develop a shared understanding and shared language for identifying a core project of teaching written communication at UO. Therefore, these guides  define key terms, highlight the rationale for each outcome, and provide samples of teaching activities that support student learning in relation to each outcome. The guides ought to serve as a teaching resource for both instructors in the Composition Program, and other instructors in Core Education courses and other writing courses across UO who hope to build on student learning from Writing 121, 122, and 123.

Phase 2: understanding student perspectives

In Spring 2022, we surveyed students about their perspectives related to writing self-efficacy, what they found most valuable about their writing experiences in WR courses, and their future goals for improving their writing while at UO. Of the 1,802 students enrolled in WR121, 122, 123, or 195, 815 responded to the (45.2% response rate).

Writing self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is confidence that one can perform tasks in a specific domain effectively. At the end of composition courses, students have relatively high confidence in many writing-specific tasks. However, students have the lowest confidence in time management and in being able to write without anxiety. This was especially true for students who struggled in composition courses and received lower grades, suggesting an area for increased support for struggling students.

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Valued learning

Students were asked what they found most valuable about their learning about writing in the past year at UO. Over 90% of student responses were aligned directly with at least one of the updated program learning outcomes for the composition program. This suggests the updated program outcomes are in alignment with student’s understanding of their own learning in composition courses. The most commonly cited learning by students coming out of composition courses was related to “transferring skills” (for example, more confidence, understanding of writing as a process, and time management) and about “writing in context” (for example, developing arguments and attending to audience).

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Future Writing goals

Students also indicated what goals they had for improving their writing at UO. The most common categories were:

  • transferring skills to new writing contexts,
  • developing more cohesion and concision in their academic writing,  
  • building their self-efficacy as writers,
  • becoming more efficient writers,
  • creating stronger arguments, 
  • improving time management with written assignments, and
  • increasing their facility with grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

Impact of COVID

Finally, we asked students to reflect on how COVID had impacted their preparation for success in college writing. 57% indicated a negative impact, primarily related to being more nervous for writing classes, feeling less prepared, feeling reduced motivation for writing, or mental or physical health changes that impacted their experience. 41.5% of students indicated they felt no negative impact on their writing preparation. 4.8% of students indicated a positive impact, mostly due to developing specific skills or enhancing their motivation to be back in classes.

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Sharing with campus 

Teaching students to be effective writers is a shared responsibility across campus, starting in the composition program and reinforced and further developed in majors and in other core education courses. This overall project, identifying learning outcomes and understanding student perspectives about writing in their foundation core education writing experience, has a number of potential uses for instructor teaching writing. For example, 

  • Sharing results with Composition instructors at Comp. conference and reflecting on areas for pedagogical focus and improvement based on outcomes and student feedback.  

  • Sharing with core education instructors at inaugural Core Education Summit 

  • Identifying and sharing resources for teaching for transfer of writing skills from composition into the rest of the curriculum.