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Online FEE Scores Being Tallied As Students Take Written Exam

By Karen Robinson

About one third of the Class of 2003 will take the Freshman Essay Evaluation, or FEE, today. Meanwhile, results from the online version of the FEE are already being analyzed as MIT tries to make its freshmen writing requirement more stringent.

FEE Scoring Changes

Scoring for the FEE has changed slightly since last year. There are now three possible score categories: “Pass,” “Intermediate,” and “Subject Required.” Students in the third category are required to take a writing class during their freshman year; this class will satisfy the Phase I writing requirement, according to Leslie C. Perelman, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

In the past this third category was “Subject Recommended,” and students could take any “communications intensive” course, according to the course Bulletin, to satisfy the Phase I requirement.

“We found that students would end up taking the writing class their junior or senior years” after trying to submit essays from their HASS-D classes and not passing, Perelman said. “It makes much more educational sense” for them to take the writing class freshman year, before completing the HASS-D requirement, he said.

Students who received an intermediate score this year have passed what is now called the “preliminary phase,” which denotes competence but not proficiency in writing, Perelman said. In addition, 300 students received exemption from the preliminary phase through high scores on the AP language and composition test (5) or the SAT II writing test (750).

Online Evaluation in Full Swing

Of 1050 freshmen, 625 took the online version of the FEE this year, Perelman said. This includes many of the 300 students who earned an exemption for the preliminary phase and “decided to try the FEE anyway” for credit for Phase I, Perelman said.

There are approximately 200 students who have not taken the FEE or otherwise passed the preliminary phase.

The online evaluation was new last year, and Perelman says his office is pleased with its results. “Writing on computers, with spellcheck and grammar checkers, is how its done in the real world,” he said. He added that this is better than giving students two hours to write an essay, which is “testing a skill that is only used for that: being tested.”

Craig Lebowitz ’02 would agree. “With more time I think I did better than I would have in two hours,” he said.

Scoring Procedures

Each essay was read by two readers, commented on by a third reader, then given a final check by Perelman or another senior person in the office, he said.

“I was surprised,” said Jen Chen ’03. “They really read the essays” and their comments were generally right, she said. Casey Dwyer ’03 also said she liked the comments returned by the readers.

Some freshmen said they were just “glad to have passed” the FEE, and felt there was nothing surprising about it. “It was basically a case of ‘feed us your best form essay,’” said one freshman who preferred to remain nameless. Others felt there was “not much to say.”

Dwyer pointed out that the readings often had little to do with the questions asked. Although she did not download the readings she found the writing fairly easy and passed, she said.