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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language Background and the College Writing Course

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

In an era of growing linguistic diversity, assessment of all college writing courses needs to include a focus on multilingual equity: How well does the course serve the needs of students with varying language backgrounds and educational histories? In this study, an Education and Language Background (ELB) survey was developed on a scale measuring divergence from default assumptions of college students as U.S.-educated monolingual English speakers. This survey data was used in assessment of a junior-level college writing course by correlating student ELB data with writing sample scores. On the pre-test, multilingual students and immigrants educated in non-U.S. systems scored significantly lower, but by the post-test this effect had disappeared, suggesting that junior-level writing instruction may be of especial utility to such students. Survey data also revealed important language and education differences between students who began their career at College Y in first-year composition and those who transferred in later. Students' language background information should be routinely collected at the beginning of each course using an instrument, such as the ELB, that systematically quantifies student language identity using multiple questions, thus permitting both a nuanced portrait of how multilinguality interacts with student writing proficiency, and development of differentiated instruction strategies.

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