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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tilting at Windmills: The City University of New York's ACT Writing Exam

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

This article examines the CUNY-ACT as a high-stakes, standardized exit exam for developmental writing students at one CUNY school, Kingsborough Community College. I chart the political conditions at CUNY that led to the establishment of the exam, and its disruption of the existing assessment procedures already in place at Kingsborough. I present examples of ACT prompts and explain the test preparation course for students who have failed the exam numerous times. I critique the report that presents the rationale and procedure of testing presented to Kingsborough by the central office of CUNY, consisting of the CUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor, in conjunction with New York City politicians, including the then mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani. I explain the role of the CUNY central office in forcing the ACT to be implemented at Kingsborough without consideration of wellestablished research on validity in the area of writing assessment. I explain the destructive effects that the ACT has on Kingsborough students, especially on those who are non-native speakers and writers. I argue for better assessment procedures at Kingsborough derived from research in the area of writing assessment, and ask for greater coordination of effort among Kingsborough students, faculty, and the CUNY Central administration to establish an assessment policy that rests upon appropriate pedagogical practice and sound validity.

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