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Comp exam results remain steady despite class growth

By Jocelyn Wright     8/20/09 7:00pm

Even though the size of the freshman class increased substantially, the percent of students passing the composition exam remained at 71 percent, indicating both the reliability of the exam and the consistent strength of the incoming class, Program for Communications Excellence Director Deborah Barrett said.Although the percent of international freshmen increased by 67 percent this year, Barrett said this did not make any difference in the exam results, a trend consistent with last year.

"It seems the exam performance is pretty consistent across the demographics of our students," Barrett said.

Of the 904 incoming students required to take the exam, 136 elected not to take it, which Barrett said is also consistent with last year when the option not to take the exam was first made available. Barrett said she had proposed making the composition exam optional a year and a half ago since some students were not taking the exam seriously when they did not want to take it.

"It wasted the students' time and our time and it didn't really give a fair reflection of the student's performance if a student is just doing it because she thought she had to," Barrett said.

Duncan College freshman Ariel Slick felt confused when she received her score on the exam.

"I made high scores on both the AP Language and Literature exams," Slick said. "I was bummed by my composition exam results, but I was unsure what the standard of writing at Rice really is."

The exam results for 2008 and 2009 are significantly better than those for the 2007 incoming class, when only 62 percent of the incoming students passed. Barrett attributed this to a number of factors, including the false rumor circulating among incoming students on Facebook and online discussion boards that everyone passed the composition exam.

For the first time, the composition exam was hosted on the Program for Communication Excellence Web site instead of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Web site, a switch that made reporting grades to the increased class significantly easier, Barrett said. Instead of reporting grades and feedback on Owlspace, as had been done previously, students were able to log onto the Web site using their NetID and password to view their results. Barrett said this process eliminated the complications that came with trying to host a huge database on Owlspace.

"I liked the little review they wrote that was tailored to my essay," Duncan freshman Hannah Bosley said. "I think it helped me improve my writing."

All students who received a "not satisfactory" or who elected not to take the exam must take COMM 103 before they graduate. Barrett said there are now four full-time faculty in the Program for Communication Excellence, which will make it possible to accommodate the COMM 103 needs of students as the freshman population continues to grow. Twelve sections of the course, each of which are capped at 15 students, will be offered in the fall and 12 sections will be offered in the spring, allowing 360 students to take COMM 103 this year.

Although this number is slightly lower than the total number of incoming students who need to take the course, Barrett said she did not anticipate any problems because many students wait until they are sophomores to take the course. One section of COMM 103 has already been filled and several others already have upperclassmen registered.

Barrett said some students also wait to take the course because they are appealing their exam results.

"We estimated we could place all but about 15 students [in COMM 103], so we're pretty well covered," Barrett said. "If we see that we need more sections we will add a couple in the spring."

A group appeared on Facebook with rumors circulating about the difficulty of the composition exam.

"I heard it was impossible," Bosley said. "But I think hearing that made me study that much harder.

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