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August 10, 2001

English 104 experiment to begin

by Linda Charles
Students in a beginning composition pilot program will have the opportunity to complete the course in five or 10 weeks, rather than attending the class for the full semester.

"Every fall, we have students in English 104 who had a similar course in high school," said Margaret Graham, director of first-year composition and overseer of the pilot program. "After a couple of weeks, we will see three to five students in each class who don't really need to be there."

Some of these students' ACT English scores were too low to qualify for testing out of the course, while others did not do well on the placement exam, though they already possess good writing skills, Graham noted.

Under the pilot program, students' portfolios (consisting of two major essays, preliminary drafts and daily activities) will be evaluated during the fifth week. Those who receive a B or better will be able to exit the class at that time. Another evaluation will be held in the 10th week of the class and again, students doing well will be able to exit the course.

As the class size shrinks, teachers will be able to spend more time with individual students, Graham said. In addition, as the semester progresses, some sections of English 104 may be eliminated by merging students in sections scheduled at the same time. Graham anticipates the elimination of three to five sections of the pilot program during fall semester.

While plans for the pilot program have been in the works for a while, Graham said the decision to launch it fall semester is the result of recent budget cuts. Iowa State's current operating budget is $21.8 million less than last year's, due to cuts in state funding and rising health insurance costs.

However, saving funds is not the major impetus behind the pilot program. One goal is to get the average class size down from 26 students to 20 or 22, the class size recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English. Another is to give additional attention to students who need it so they successfully complete English 104 the first time around, Graham said.

The pilot program provides a third alternative for students, between testing out of the class and taking it, Graham said. The pilot program will accommodate 728 students at the beginning of fall semester. Traditional sections of English 104 also will be offered.

"This will be an opportunity for some students to leave the course early, while providing the remaining students more contact with the instructors," Graham said.

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