SOARing Spirits — Placement assessments removed from student orientation sessions

It is something that nearly every current student at Albion has faced — the math and writing placement assessments held at the annual Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) sessions.

“(The assessments) are anxiety-producing for many students, because no matter what we tell them, they place much more weight on these assessments than they need to,” said Tracey Howard, assistant dean for program development. “You think that this is going to make or break your academic career, and it’s not. Students just internalize that (it will).” 

 But for next fall’s incoming first-year class, that will no longer be the case, with the removal of both the math and writing placement assessments from the four SOAR sessions on June 2, 4 and 7 and Aug. 19. Instead, students will take both assessments online and receive their results before attending SOAR.

 “By being able to take those placements out of the actual SOAR program, I think it will be much less anxiety producing,” Howard said. “It will give them more time to learn about Albion College, about the curriculum at a little slower pace, so they’ll be able to better retain the information.”

 Prior to 2007, SOAR events were spread out over two days, but for the last three years, the orientation sessions have been fit into one day to be more convenient for students and their families. The change frees two hours, but because the change was only formally announced on Feb. 19, it is still uncertain what activities will be added, according to Howard.

 Mark Bollman, math department professor and chair, said that the online math assessment will be similar to its predecessor and vary depending on which classes a student has previously taken.

 But Bollman is worried that the change will remove the academic emphasis from SOAR.

 “We’ve been drifting away from an academically oriented SOAR to ‘we’re just going to register you for some classes,’ and that’s an issue,” Bollman said. “It seems to me that we’re doing this for the wrong reasons – we’re leaving students with the wrong impression of how academics should be regarded at college.”

 The possibility of cheating is also something to consider, according to Bollman, and it is not something that he is quite sure how to address yet.

 “What we have is not so much students cheating to do better, as students who don’t want the placement that they’ve got,” Bollman said. “We have students who place into Calc 2 and want to take Calc 1 again.”

Ian MacInness, English professor and chair of the English department, plans to address any possible cheating by providing a timed writing assessment of 30-40 minutes.

 “We find that we’re pretty sure that the time limiting factor will mean that we get an authentic sample,” MacInness said. “We want to put them in the best writing class for them possible, so they need to give us the most realistic sample of their writing. What we find is when students they write under pressure, you can get a good diagnostic picture of some of the issues they confront as writers.”

 The writing assessment will be administered through the Moodle engine in the college’s CourseWebs site and will offer a variety of topics for students to choose from.

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