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Essay Passing Score Raised to Stress Writing Skills

Gabor Csanyi--The Tech
Instructor Neal Kerner (right) helps Alexander Beloplsky G. with his resume yesterday at the Writing Center.

By Shawdee Eshghi

The passing grade for the freshman Essay Evaluation was raised from 72 to 79 this year as part of an effort to emphasize writing as an important part of the undergraduate program, said Coordinator for the Writing Requirement Leslie C. Perelman.

As a result, only 17 percent of the Class of 1999 passed the FEE when it was administered during Residence and Orientation Week, a decrease from the 48 percent last year. Another 5 percent passed with Advanced Placement credit.

More students were given "not acceptable" grades this year in order to "send messages to the students that they need to be more aggressive and take a leadership role in improving their writing skills at MIT," said Professor Kip V. Hodges, chair of the Committee on the Writing Requirement.

There are three possible grades on the FEE: "pass," "not acceptable," and "not acceptable - subject recommended." A passing grade means that the student has successfully completed Phase I of the Writing Requirement.

A grade of "not acceptable" requires that the student submit a paper written for an MIT class for grading. "Not acceptable - subject recommended" means that the student is advised to take a writing course.

While fewer students passed, the number of students receiving "not acceptable - subject recommended" did not significantly change since last year, meaning that there is no greater demand for writing courses, Hodges said.

Behnke also stressed that while the admissions office sees applications from very few "great" writers, it considers writing ability very important and does not admit poor writers.

Changes in the Writing Requirement had been discussed for several years. Three years ago, a new category was created called "conditional pass." Students in this category were granted a pass if they revised their papers and attended a writing workshop. These writers typically had specific problems.

This year, the conditional pass was abolished because "it was becoming very difficult to identify those students," Perelman said. Many of the students who would have received "conditional pass" in previous years received scores of "not acceptable" this year.

Further changes in the Writing Requirement are also being considered, Perelman said. There has been discussion on making writing a larger part of the curriculum without increasing undergraduate requirements.

"It is my personal opinion that within several years, there will be significant movement within the faculty and administration in trying to improve the writing ability of students," Hodges said.