By this point, the college-readiness gap is well documented. The majority of students entering college are not ready for college-level work: nearly three quarters of 12th-graders fail to meet standards of academic proficiency; more than half of all students entering college need remedial coursework; almost half of all students who enter college fail to complete their degrees.
In the case of writing—our special concern here—less than 30 percent of 12th-graders write at a level considered “proficient,” according to The Nation’s Report Card.
The lack of college readiness is made all the more frustrating by the fact that we have a pretty good idea of what students need to know and be able to do if they’re going to succeed in college. Evidence-based frameworks for college readiness abound. There’s also a knowledge and skills framework for successful college writing.
It hasn’t been easy to translate these frameworks into practical, hands-on instruction (though, in the case of college-ready writing, I have given it my best effort: see the online resource I’ve developed, College-Ready Writing Essentials). Nevertheless, the necessary knowledge and skills have been identified, and that’s an important first step in addressing the college-readiness gap.
Aligning College Readiness Research with College Ready-Writing Research
It’s reasonable to wonder, however, how well the research on college-ready writing aligns with the research on college readiness in general. That is, does the guidance offered by the writing framework conform to the broader vision of college readiness proffered by the college readiness frameworks? This seems an especially appropriate question, given the importance of writing to overall college success.
To answer that question, I did a comparison of the two frameworks, a “crosswalk” to see where they might overlap, contradict, or complement each other.
For overall college readiness, I used the ConnectEd report, “College and Career Readiness: What Do We Mean?.” It combines a digest of some 12 college- and career-readiness frameworks with the perspectives of leading economists, educators, researchers, and policy organizations. The report provides a comprehensive, high-level description of knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed for success after high school.
The “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing,” was produced by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project, three of the most authoritative voices on college-ready writing. This framework identifies the skills needed for early college writing success, in alignment with the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ “WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition.”
Together, the “Framework for Success” and the “WPA Outcomes Statement” are intended to “help establish a continuum of valued practice from high school through to the college major.” After first-year composition, students are expected to be prepared to learn how to write in their disciplines.
Unsurprisingly, the two frameworks align well, though I note a comparative under-emphasis on metacognitive skills in the writing framework, as discussed below.
The frameworks in many cases use differing terms and categorizations to express the same or similar concepts. “Persistence,” for example, appears in the writing framework as a “habit of mind,” but in the college-readiness framework under “productive dispositions and behaviors.” For the purposes of the crosswalk, it’s useful to categorize elements of both frameworks in terms of cognitive, noncognitive, and metacognitive competencies.
I like “competencies” as a term that can encompass the “knowledge,” “skills,” “dispositions,” “behaviors,” “strategies,” and “habits of mind” found in the frameworks. In practice, these attributes often are inseparable from one another, especially in the writing domain: in the actual production of a successful academic essay, many of the abilities a writer must employ call upon intermingled knowledge, skills, and behaviors.
Cognitive competencies include the mental skills and knowledge employed in the production of a successful academic essay: for example, the ability to plan and research, produce a draft, and revise in response to feedback. The college-readiness framework refers to such competencies as “core academic knowledge and skills.”
The cognitive competencies found in the writing framework can be viewed as the “core knowledge and skills” that pertain to academic writing. They include “rhetorical knowledge,” “process skills,” “critical thinking,” and “knowledge of conventions.”
Noncognitive competencies are behaviors and dispositions needed for academic success. In education research, these often are enfolded within the category of “social and emotional learning” (SEL) skills, though that term is not used by either of these frameworks.
In general, the college-readiness framework identifies noncognitive competencies as “productive dispositions and behaviors,” while the writing framework includes them within “habits of mind.”
I feel confident in calling this group of competencies “noncognitive,” since many of them are identified as such in other studies. Nagaoka, et al., for example, identify five categories of noncognitive college-readiness factors: “academic behaviors,” “academic perseverance,” “social skills,” “learning strategies,” “academic mindset.”
These categories match many of the “productive dispositions and behaviors” and “habits of mind” found in the two frameworks.
Metacognitive competencies include the ability to reflect on oneself—e.g., one’s thinking, motivations, objectives, performance—and to recognize the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which one is operating, including the processes and systems that structure knowledge and agency within education. In the college-readiness framework, some metacognitive competencies are named as skills and behaviors.
The major metacognitive emphasis, however, is on the ability to “navigate” higher education, the world of work, and civic life.
The writing framework encourages students’ ability to examine and analyze their own writing processes, texts, and choices, but does not stress a broader awareness of the function of writing in academic, work, and civic realms. This appears to me a missed opportunity, since a strong metacognitive grasp of writing is of aid in each of these contexts.
The table below illustrates my alignment of the ConnectEd college-readiness framework with the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, using the cognitive, noncognitive, and metacognitive competencies categories.
What we gain from this exercise is an ability to see how college-ready writing competencies fit into the overall picture of college readiness.
One of the biggest takeaways, to my thinking, is how thoroughly we should be integrating noncognitive and metacognitive competencies into writing instruction.
For much more information, visit collegereadywriting.com.
William Bryant, PhD is the President and Co-Founder of BetterRhetor Resources, an educational publishing & services company he and his wife operate headquartered in Prescott, Arizona.
Dr. Bryant has created collegereadywriting.com and authored his signature online writing program, College-Ready Writing Essentials, as well as several other free & paid resources designed to target the college-ready writing gap. He has written for Getting Smart, Curmudgication, and Bright Magazine. and worked for a decade at ACT Inc., lastly as Director of Writing Assessments.
In addition to college readiness, Dr. Bryant writes about education, equity, democracy—and how they fit together. Connect with him on LinkedIn.