The Outcomes Book: Debate and Consensus after the WPA Outcomes Statement

The Outcomes Book: Debate and Consensus after the WPA Outcomes Statement

The Outcomes Book: Debate and Consensus after the WPA Outcomes Statement

The Outcomes Book: Debate and Consensus after the WPA Outcomes Statement


The WPA Outcomes Statement is important because it represents a working consensus among composition scholars about what college students should learn and do in a composition program. But as a single-page document, the statement cannot convey the kind of reflective process that a writing program must undertake to address the learning outcomes described.

The Outcomes Book relates the fuller process by exploring the matrix of concerns that surrounded the developing Statement itself, and by presenting the experience of many who have since employed it in their own settings.


Susanmarie Harrington

The wpa Outcomes Statement (OS) had innocuous beginnings: one plaintive question in an electronic discussion group for writing program administrators wondering whether or “a pithy and effective list of objectives for writing (and maybe speaking!) programs” existed. This simple question immediately generated enthusiasm and skepticism. a few participants immediately shared local documents describing courses or programs. Some participants in the discussion, sensitive to the role of local context in matters of curriculum and assessment, thought that outcomes were best discussed locally. Others, looking at a discipline centered on first-year composition, thought that our theoretical commonalties could lead to practical commonalties as well. and still others saw a challenge: what would happen if we could construct a description of program outcomes that could be used in very different settings?

Several years and thousands of hours of discussion and drafting later, the Outcomes Statement is an official document of the Council of Writing Program Administrators—and more importantly, it has been used in numerous ways by individual teachers and programs to guide the development of teaching and learning.

This collection celebrates the Outcomes Statement; it also complicates it. the Outcomes Collective, as the group that developed the statement playfully yet seriously called itself, worried a great deal about potential uses of the statement. Would a simple list of outcomes be coopted by bean-counting administrators swooping in to do quantitative evaluations? Would the list of goals and outcomes become so large as to be unwieldy? Would a focus on what can be easily measured or counted force outcomes to value what can be simply assessed rather than what is valued in the field? Any short statement of outcomes could easily be turned against a writing program, and the developers were always concerned about how the statement would be read by audiences with different levels of involvement in composition programs. Passionate . . .

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