Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Educational Studies


Educational Psychology / Research

First Advisor

Kellah Edens


Effective writing skills are important for success in college, work, and for society. Although there is little argument about the importance of communication skills, there is more debate about whether or not students and graduates are actually attaining these skills. An examination of the impact of completing the college composition course on students' writing skills is useful in an increasingly accountable and financially-strained environment.

This study examines change in students' writing skills in the context of a single course, using currently accepted components of writing. The study compares changes in writing skills for subgroups of students to determine whether there are potentially different levels of course effectiveness for different populations. Additionally, it examines how level of alignment in a course, evidenced through the syllabus, to the recognized components of effective writing, influences writing skill gain.

A student's SAT essay score was used as the measure of the student's writing ability in high school. An essay designed to replicate the SAT essay was administered at the end of the first-year composition course to identify post-instruction writing skill. A third research question was investigated through a content analysis of a sample of syllabi from the composition course.

Analysis of the data showed that, although there was a slight change in essay score between the two administrations, with the earlier SAT-E score being higher, the difference was not statistically significant. Results, however, did show differences in gains based upon the pretest score. Changes were not statistically significant for any subgroup based upon race or gender. Additional analysis conducted to examine change in students' writing skills based upon the alignment of the curriculum to the components of effective writing did not indicate significant differences. The lack of a clear indication that students are becoming more effective writers by completing the first-year composition course provides an opportunity for further research and to consider changes to current practice. A thorough examination of the issues at hand might influence who is required to complete the course, the content that is taught, and how an institution chooses to value the teaching and learning of effective writing skills.


© 2012, Susan Prior