A Review of the California State University Graduate Writing
Assessment Requirement (GWAR) in 2002
AS-2627-03/AA - November 13-14, 2003
RESOLVED: That the Academic Senate of the California State University
(CSU) thank the CSU GWAR Review Committee and commend them for their efforts,
which resulted in A Review of the California State University Graduation
Writing Assessment Requirement (GWAR) in 2002 and comparative campus
charts and responses on various aspects of the GWAR; and be it further
RESOLVED: That the Academic Senate CSU endorse the document
A Review of the California State University Graduation Writing Assessment
Requirement (GWAR) in 2002; and be it further
RESOLVED: That the Academic Senate CSU recommend that campus senates
and administrations review the report with the intention of adopting its
content or implications as campus policy.
RATIONALE: In the 25 years since the Graduation Writing Assessment
Requirement (GWAR) was instituted, the California State University (CSU) has
undergone considerable change, including an emphasis on the assessment of
student learning outcomes, large increases in student enrollments with modest
(at best) increases in funding, and dramatic changes in the student body. All
of these developments in the academic environment have had an impact on the
assessment of student writing skills.
As required by Executive Order 665, a review of GWAR was undertaken by a
committee of CSU faculty, administrators, and students. To conduct the review,
the committee collected information from each CSU campus about local GWAR
policies, processes, and products in 2001-02 and organized the data by looking
at the key features of systemwide GWAR policy, which include the following:
In addition to considering these systemwide GWAR policies, the review committee
also examined emerging issues. The most significant of these is the large
numbers of non-native speakers of English in CSU classrooms. The heterogeneity
of today's student body places extraordinary demands on CSU faculty and heavy
burdens on students who succeed in their coursework but have not attained
proficiency in standard written English.
- Flexibility in choice of assessment method: Ten campuses
require a writing exam; two campuses require completion of a course; three campuses
require both an exam and a course; and seven campuses require either an exam
or a course.
- Procedure for evaluating student writing samples:
Nearly all campuses using a standardized essay exam follow the policy
requiring essay exams to be written under controlled conditions and evaluated
by at least two readers. Although the policy for standardized essay exams
is quite specific, systemwide GWAR policy is silent on procedures for writing
samples produced in academic courses. It appears that, in most GWAR courses,
student writing is evaluated by the instructor of record. In these cases,
the committee recommends that campuses implement measures to ensure
consistency and common standards across courses.
- Variety in writing samples: Systemwide GWAR policy
permits many types of writing samples to be used for certification, and
campuses vary in the nature of the writing task expected of the student.
Campuses differ by offering students shorter or longer reading passages, more
or less complex reading passages, and varying rhetorical situations.
- Quality of writing performance: To evaluate the quality
of the student writing performance, the review committee considered two types
of evidence. Information on student passrates showed that no campus had a
passrate exceeding 90 percent for first-time test-takers and that passrates are low
for students who have to repeat the test because they did not pass the first
time. The data also show that student passrates in GWAR courses are similar
to passrates in other academic courses. The second type of evidence was a
sampling of actual student GWAR essays that were scored by campus evaluators
and then reviewed by the committee. The committee, by and large, concurred
with the judgments of campus evaluators. The committee believes, however,
that campuses should devise writing prompts that challenge students to
demonstrate the comprehensive writing skills expected of college graduates,
not just the proficiencies required of students when they enter the
- Timing of the Administration of the Writing Assessment:
Although students are expected to complete the assessment in the junior year,
many do not, despite the fact that CSU institutions use a variety of
incentives and motivators. Data on passrates show clearly that students who
must retake the test or course need extra services and assistance to help
- All-campus responsibility: CSU faculty from disciplines
across the curriculum have participated in GWAR processes as instructors of
GWAR courses, readers of timed essay examinations, and members of oversight
committees. To ensure all-campus responsibility, it would be helpful if
campuses treated GWAR like they do all other academic programs and require
a program review every five to seven years.
Another interesting finding from campus data lies in the many different ways
GWAR is implemented-or not implemented-in graduate programs. Instead of
offering a campus-wide certification, most graduate programs delegate the
assessment method to the department level. Some campuses were unaware that a
GWAR requirement at the graduate level exists.
With the flexibility and independence encouraged by the Board of Trustees, CSU
institutions have developed assessment procedures that are, with a few
exceptions, rigorous and sound. In some areas, the review committee has
offered recommendations for improving campus GWAR processes. By and large,
however, the campuses have identified assessment methods appropriate to their
individual missions and student populations, and they have adapted to an
evolving academic milieu.
The recommendations of the report are as follows:
- Recommendation #1: Each campus should implement measures to ensure
consistency and common standards in faculty evaluations of written documents
produced in courses through which students can achieve GWAR
- Recommendation #2: Each campus should review GWAR writing prompts to
ensure that they will elicit the skills expected of graduating students rather
than the proficiencies of entering students.
- Recommendation #3: The CSU system should develop and maintain a
systemwide repository of writing topics, prompts, and assignments for
- Recommendation #4: Each campus should develop a process that ensures
students attempt the assessment in their junior year.
- Recommendation #5: Campuses should discuss and implement advising and
assistance to enable GWAR "repeaters" to be successful.
- Recommendation #6: So that students can have effective individualized
instruction in GWAR courses, course section enrollments should be capped
- Recommendation #7: Each campus should collect and disseminate data
that report the percentage of students who have completed all requirements
for graduation except GWAR.
- Recommendation #8: Each campus should involve CSU faculty from all
disciplines in GWAR processes such as reading essays, teaching GWAR courses,
providing opportunities for students to improve their writing, and serving
on GWAR committees.
- Recommendation #9: To ensure all-campus responsibility for GWAR, every
CSU institution should conduct a five- to seven-year review of GWAR on the
campus. GWAR should be added to every campus's program review calendar as
one of the regular academic programs to be reviewed periodically.
- Recommendation #10: Each campus should discuss and implement practices
that help ESL students to be successful in passing GWAR.
- Recommendation #11: Each CSU campus should develop a campus-wide GWAR
policy for graduate as well as undergraduate programs.
- Recommendation #12: Graduate programs should be included in the
annual five- to seven-year GWAR reviews on campus.
APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY - January 22-23, 2004