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Open Access Publications from the University of California

(Re)Placing Personalis: A Study of Placement Reform and Self-Construction in Mission-Driven Contexts

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Recent movements in higher education have opened many opportunities for writing program administrators to reform first-year writing placement procedures, including continued development and adaptation of Directed Self Placement (DSP) models alongside ongoing research into their potential to foster student agency and advance linguistic, racial, and social justice in the academy. Our study traces and compares the efforts of two writing program administrators to reform flawed placement processes at their two mission-driven liberal arts institutions—one, a small Lasallian university and Hispanic-serving Institution in Northern California; the other, a private research Jesuit university located in New York City. Using inter-institutional, grounded theory research, this study examines students' reflections on their placement choices to understand “substantive validity,” inquiring intentionally into ways that students self-locate with regard to their self-placement assessments and connecting to the mission-based language of personalis, what belongs to the person. Findings indicate that students use four rhetorical moves to personalize their placement: proliferating, riffing, importing, and qualifying. Specifically, the study calls into question current understandings of under-placement in DSP models, complicating DSP’s fundamentals of choice, guidance, and justice.

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