Students, faculty discuss the Written English Proficiency Test
The Written English Proficiency Test (WEPT) has been the subject of dispute for many years at UMKC. Many students feel it is unnecessary. There are some students who wish to eradicate the test completely. Every few years, groups of students rally together trying to do away with the WEPT, however, the WEPT still remains at UMKC.
Lindsey Martin-Bowen, lecturer for the English and PACE departments and Writing Assessment Coordinator, complains about what she calls the “Ax the WEPT” mindset. She believes the WEPT is necessary to ensure students are prepared for Writing Intensive (WI) classes.
Taking the WEPT has been mandatory since the 1990s, and is still a requirement to graduate from UMKC. Students usually take the WEPT their sophomore year. It is compulsory to earn a C average in English 110 and 225, as well having 45 credit hours, before taking the WEPT. Students are required to take the WEPT before enrolling in any WI classes, which must be taken in order to graduate.
Many students believe that the core curriculum requirements of English 110 and 225 are enough to test a student’s competency in writing. They argue that if students pass both these classes, then they have enough writing proficiency.
This leads some to the conclusion that the WEPT is a waste of time and money. While the WEPT does charge five dollars to each student for printing costs, Martin-Bowen said, “The fee covers copying costs for the reading packets only. It remains quite minimal.”
Martin-Bowen explained that when she attempted to put the reading packets online for students to print themselves, few followed the instructions correctly or even printed off the packet.
Some question whether the existence of the WEPT allows professors to let students fall through the cracks in the required English classes and lowers the professors’ accountability.
As Jack Walton, a transfer student studying creative witing, said, “If they are in a system where they are not obligated to produce good writers in their class, then why would they? I think in the first two classes or so, your comp classes, they should be able to produce an efficient writer.”
Another suggestion is that the WEPT and English 225 should be incorporated, “I understand the WEPT provides a standardized testing device for the University of Missouri, but I think that that could be incorporated into a class,” Walton said. “You could have a standardized test in the class. As far as having to take the time to plan that test into your schedule, along with classes, I think that college is crazy enough already.”
The WEPT was put into place by UMKC after they cut the final test in the English 225 class. As Martin-Bowen explained, “UMKC primarily instituted the WEPT to replace the English Composition II final.”
Some say it would be more convenient to have the WEPT planned into a class. Many students dislike being forced to find time to take the WEPT test outside of class. On the other hand, to others it is helpful to be able to plan the test on their own time. As opposed to having an extra test in a class, the student is allowed to choose when to take the test.
Martin-Bowen verified that the majority of schools in Missouri have a WEPT equivalent built into their required English courses, yet transfer students, even those who have completed the required writing coursework at said schools, are still required to take the WEPT. However, according to Martin-Bowen, transfer students are among the lower scoring students on the WEPT.
Many students take issue with the WEPT, arguing that standardized tests do not show many students’ full capacities. However, Martin-Bowen argued, “[The WEPT is NOT a standardized exam testing information only. Instead, it tests how students apply information; it tests knowledge, which is far different than memorizing facts.”
Sometimes even students who excel in writing fail the test. Martin-Bowen claimed this happens when students do not take the test seriously enough. Students have the option to re-take the test if they fail. If they fail the WEPT the second time as well, they are required to take English 229, a class that teaches correct structure and grammar.
UMKC offers support for students taking the WEPT. There are tutoring sessions open for students at the writing center. UMKC even holds coaching seminars for the WEPT, usually in the spring semester.
Martin-Bowen said that rather than looking at the WEPT as a burden, students should see it as an honor. “Along that vein, more than anything, student perception of the WEPT should change. This test gives them credibility. Occasionally, persons from the ‘outside’ world have contacted me and begged me to allow them to take the WEPT to show their proficiency in English to employers and so forth.”
The WEPT is only offered to students at UMKC. Those not enrolled at the school are not allowed to take it. This does give a certain level of integrity to students’ degrees.
Many of the students see the WEPT as a hassle to fit into their schedules. The WEPT merely represents one more hurdle they have to leap to get their diplomas.
Martin-Bowen thinks students can see the necessity of the test if they change their outlook on it. She said, “Perhaps students could view taking the exam as a ‘privilege,’ just as attending college is a privilege.”
While the debate over the WEPT continues, it is still mandatory at UMKC. Martin-Bowen sums up the current status of the WEPT saying, “Today, students must either pass the exam or fulfill the requirement by receiving at least a C in English 229 to receive a bachelor degree.”