Producing the Final Draft
Here is the final draft of my position paper.
Although the idea of a writing competency exam is appealing as a way of strengthening a basic skill, such an exam would be self- defeating and destructive. It is expensive, inefficient to administer, and demoralizing for both students and faculty. It would destroy the English department's effectiveness in helping all students to learn, and cannot ensure competency in writing. Such a goal can only be accomplished by a creative, flexible, highly motivated teaching staff making instruction as individualized as possible toward the goal of writing as a lifelong skill.
The competency idea is a tantalizing one, but it raises serious questions. Usually, as in computer literacy, such exams "certify" that students have been trained in some way. But what could we, or should we "certify" in writing? Who would make that decision? What are we prepared to do for the students who fail? What kind of teacher could we hire to read such uninspired essays, or to preside over a competency-test prep course? Generally, what would the mechanization of writing instruction mean to our students and teachers of writing? These and other questions suggest how a competency exam will force us to put our resources into a test rather than into teaching and learning.
Of course, a competency exam will reduce the role of the English faculty to that of a "remedial" service, with no realistic expectation that faculty in other departments would take up the responsibility for teaching writing. The impact on new and younger faculty will also be devastating, accentuating just the wrong things: training students to pass an exam, a narrow skill that may have almost nothing to do with