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University Needs Assessment

University Needs Assessment

The University has assessed writing using the locally developed Examination of Writing Competency (EWC) since 2001. The Selection Committee reviewed available data from the EWC, the results of the previous QEP on critical thinking, and statewide data on incoming students. The committee also examined data on current University programming, like the Common Reader program, and University-wide survey data (e.g., National Survey of Student Engagement, Graduating Student Exit Survey, and Faculty Survey of Student Engagement).

Examination of Writing Competency

Data from the Examination of Writing Competency (EWC) were used to evaluate student writing. Until fall 2016, all undergraduate students were required to successfully complete the examination before graduation. ENG 101: Communication Skills I and ENG 102: Communication Skills II or comparable transfer courses were prerequisites for the examination. To pass the examination, scores of three or higher on all four EWC rubric criteria – (1) organization, (2) development and analysis, (3) sentence structure, and (4) grammar, diction, and mechanics – were required. The EWC rubric was a five-scaled rubric ranging from one (“incompetence”) to five (“superior competency).” Each examination was scored by at least two trained University raters. At least two graders were required to agree on the final rating. The Selection Committee reviewed five years of EWC data from 2011-12 to 2015-16.  Overall, EWC pass rates ranged from a low of 68 percent to a high of 78 percent. Pass rates are provided in Table 1 by academic year from 2011-12 to 2015-16.

Table 1. Examination of Writing Competency Pass Rates by Academic Year
  2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2015-16
Overall Pass Rates 77% 68% 72% 68% 78%


The University’s established threshold for achievement on the EWC was set as a pass rate of 70 percent or higher. While students met or exceeded the threshold for three of the five years under review, the results revealed that on average 22-32 percent of students did not possess the writing skills needed to successfully pass the examination. Since the EWC was a graduation requirement, a sizable portion of the undergraduate student body failed to meet graduation requirements; thus, writing was having an outsized effect on retention and graduation.

Proficiency Profile

The University’s previous QEP, REASON: Creating Coherent Pathways to Develop Critical Thinking Skills in Students, used the ETS Proficiency Profile to assess student attainment of critical thinking outcomes. The Proficiency Profile also provided the following criterion-referenced scores:

  • Writing (Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3)
  • Reading (Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Critical Thinking)

From fall 2009 to fall 2017, the University used Proficiency Profile critical thinking sub-scores to measure its critical thinking learning outcomes. The results revealed that students’ critical thinking proficiency was closely related to their reading proficiency. The results also revealed weaknesses in students’ writing further substantiating the need to improve student writing. The results revealed that fewer than a third of students scored at or above the national average of Carnegie classification peers in reading, critical thinking, and writing. The percentage of students who scored at or above the national average is provided in Table 2 by academic year.

Table 2. Percentage of Scores that Met or Exceeded the National Average by Academic Year
Proficiency Profile Skill Dimensions 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2015-16
Critical Thinking 17% 21% 22% 18% 21%
Reading 26% 34% 33% 29% 31%
Writing 25% 28% 28% 25% 24%


Proficiency classifications provided additional data to support the selection of reading and writing as the QEP topic. Fewer than 45 percent of students were categorized as proficient in level one reading and writing. The percentage of students categorized as proficient is provided by skill dimension and academic year in Table 3.

Table 3. Proficiency Classifications by Skill Dimension and Academic Year
Skill Dimension 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Reading, Level 1 32% 43% 41% 37% 42% 51%
Reading, Level 2 9% 15% 15% 12% 14% 23%
Critical Thinking 0% 0% 1% 0% 1% 2%
Writing Level 1 32% 37% 39% 33% 36% 51%
Writing Level 2 4% 7% 7% 6% 6% 13%
Writing Level 3 2% 2% 2% 1% 1% 5%

*Based on 2014 ETS Proficiency Profile Comparative Scores Guide.

State and National SAT Data

The Committee also examined the verbal scores of incoming freshmen in 2017 for both Virginia and the nation disaggregated by family education and racial backgrounds. The Committee then realized how entrenched and worrisome these reading and writing problems are. For example, the verbal scores of those students whose parents had received only a high school diploma were consistently lower than those students whose parents had achieved any type of college education. Most distressing, however, were the verbal scores of African American students, which were nearly seventy points lower than the national mean score and, in turn, were nearly 100 points below the mean score for Virginia. This strongly suggests that the entering freshmen coming to our historically African American university may have writing deficiencies and thus need innovative curricular and pedagogical strategies. The SAT data, combined with the more fragmented Proficiency Profile and EWC evidence, confirmed the University’s decision to choose Close Reading for Effective Writing (CREW) as the focus of our QEP.   The QEP Committee examined the relevant Norfolk State University data and concluded that the NSU data mirrored state and national trends.