The Effects of State Policies on Writing Instruction
As my institution, the University of California, Irvine (UCI) is a state-funded land grant institution, California state policies pertaining to higher education funds allocated to the University of California affect the quality and support of writing instruction.
In the 2015-16 fiscal year, 46% of the state and UC General Funds were allocated to general campus instruction at UC campuses in an effort to sustain well-balanced, quality programs.1 UCI’s School of Humanities houses two large undergraduate writing programs – Composition Program and Academic English – that are directly affected by the state and general UC funds.
These two programs work in close collaboration with the UC Irvine Center for Excellence in Writing and Communication, which provides a variety of services, such as one-on-one and online tutoring, email consultation, writing workshops, and peer tutoring, to assist undergraduate students in their writing development. These academic support services, while important in supporting writing instruction, persistently suffer from underfunding and are supported entirely from non-State funds. For example, the “total expenditures for student services in 2015-16 were $928 million, most of which were generated from student fees.”2 California state’s initiative to increase resident enrollment will impact supplemental educational services and writing instruction campus-wide.
On October 13, 2017, then-California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill titled AB 705, requiring community colleges to maximize the probability that a student will enter and complete transfer-level coursework on English and math within a one-year time frame. This bill essentially eliminated mandatory ‘remedial’ English courses for community college students.
“Colleges are required to use multiple measures in determining course placement, pursuant to Section 55522 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, but Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations fails to provide sufficient guidance in the use of multiple measures to ensure that students are not excluded from courses in which they can be successful.”3 Since UCI has a large number of transfer students, this state bill that took effect on January 1, 2018, has rollover effect in university-level writing courses and instruction.
The Influence of the Common Core State Standards on Higher Ed Writing Instruction
The Common Core State Standards were adopted by the California State Board of Education in August 2010 (and later modified March 2013)7 to provide instructional guidance on the teaching of mathematics and English language arts from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The adoption of the CCSS had led to responses from all sectors of higher education particularly with the shift in the use of the term “argumentation” in favor of the use of the term “persuasion.”
This emphasis on the term argumentation has caused a shift in K-12 curriculum to make it more aligned with expectations at the university level, particularly emphasizing the need for students to support their claims through careful crafting of arguments with evidence from a variety of sources (see CCSS, 2010)8. Additionally, the three systems have reported that they believe the CCSS will ensure “that students arrive at college better prepared for the kind of inquiry based learning and collaborative problem-solving that defines twenty-first century learning. These assessments align with [their] commitment to new learning outcomes to ensure [California] graduates are ready to succeed in an increasingly complex global environment” (Harris, Napolitano, Soares, & White, 2014, p. 1)9.
The CCSS have also provided other avenues for alignment between the K-12 sector and higher education in terms of college readiness, college placement exams, and curricula. Colleges must determine if the K-12 curriculum meets their expectations for higher education standards on writing, and how to use the assessment results from the K-12 sector to meet the needs of course placement officials at the college level. Furthermore, the higher education sector must align their first-year courses with high school senior courses in terms of writing rigor to allow for a smooth transition. 10
An additional impact of the CCSS is the curriculum teacher education programs will provide to their credential candidates in terms of literacy instruction, not to mention other core disciplines, such as mathematics, science, and history. This means that their candidates must be familiar with the standards and teach them, through professional development (often provided by higher education faculty), to a high degree so that students in the K-12 sector are ready for the demands of the three college systems within California.11
Finally, another impact the CCSS has had on the higher education system is the percentage of students who have had to take a college-level remediation course in writing. Reports have stated that most remediation happens at California Community Colleges (CCC), with as many as 8 in 10 students needing remediation, but remediation still occurs at the California State University (CSU) level, and at the University of California (UC) campuses as well.12 In sum, the CCSS at the K-12 level definitely have shaped higher education within California and has been a feedback loop that requires constant vigilance and revision to meet the needs of all stakeholders involved.
- University of California. (2017-2018). Budget for Current Operations: Summary & Details. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from https://www.ucop.edu/operating-budget/_files/rbudget/2017-18budgetforcurrentoperations.pdf
- Legislative Analyst’s Office (2018-19). Overview of Education Issues. Retrieved January 30, 2019, from https://lao.ca.gov/handouts/Conf_Comm/2018/Conference-Education-Overview-053118.pdf
- University of California, Office of the President. Academic Affairs. https://www.ucop.edu
- UCI Center for Excellence in Writing and Communication. https://www.ucop.edu/about/facts.html
- California Legislative Information. (October 13, 2017). Assembly Bill No. 705: Chapter 745. Retrieved January 31, 2019, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB705
- California Community College. (2018). What is AB 705. Retrieved January 31, 2019, from https://assessment.cccco.edu/ab-705-implementation/
Carol Booth Olson is professor of Education and Writing Project Director at the University of California, Irvine.