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The Challenge of Writing Remediation: Can Composition Research Inform Higher Education Policy?


by Stefani R. Relles & William G. Tierney — 2013

Background/Context: This article presents a review of research relevant to postsecondary writing remediation. The purpose of the review is to assess empirical support for policy aimed at improving the degree completion rates of students who arrive at tertiary settings underprepared to write.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Our purpose is to bridge composition studies for a higher education policy audience. Our agenda is to offer a balanced portrait of disciplinary literature framed for organizational decision-making that can improve graduation rates. The research question that guides inquiry is: How can writing and composition research inform remediation policy to increase college-going success?

Research Design: This is a critical synthesis of prior conceptual and empirical work. We first provide a historical perspective to explicate important disciplinary issues that may be unfamiliar to a policy audience. We then present a critical synthesis of the disciplinary-based literature from two viewpoints. The first involves rhetorical frames that are related, but have significant conceptual differences. The second considers student achievement, attainment, and developmental outcomes.

Findings/Results: The review comprehensively demonstrates the seriousness and scope of policy problems perpetuated by two obstacles. The first is a lack of clarity on what constitutes college writing. The second is a dearth of assessment tools with which to measure writing aptitude. The incongruities between standards and assessment of college writing have resulted in a body of research that does not provide the kind of evidentiary support weighted in policy discussions. Both issues require attention if writing remediation policy is to be improved.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The review suggests that writing remediation policy and programs will remain accountable to the rhetorical and paradigmatic viewpoints that dominate writing assessment and that relegate underprepared students to dubious degree pathways. The negative implications of the review for college writing preparation are discussed in the context of the K–12 Common Core State Standards. Recommendations are tendered for an interdisciplinary agenda to increase the educational opportunities of underprepared writers and decrease the social inequities associated with remediation policies and programs.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 3, 2013, p. 1-45
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16881, Date Accessed: 7/28/2014 10:35:22 PM

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About the Author
  • Stefani Relles
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    STEFANI R. RELLES is currently a research assistant at the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis and a doctoral student at USC. She is a former community college remedial English instructor. Her research interests include higher education policy in the context of writing preparation and access, postsecondary remediation, and the impact of communication technologies on college readiness.
  • William Tierney
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM G. TIERNEY is director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, University Professor and Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education at the Rossier School of Education. He is the president elect of the American Educational Research Association and is a former president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. His research interests pertain to policies and practices related to educational equity and postsecondary effectiveness. His most recent publications include: Trust and the Public Good: Examining the Cultural Conditions of Academic Work and New Players, Different Game: Understanding the Rise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities (with Guilbert Hentschke).
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