by Jordan Jantz

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The Editing Competency Exam, the ECE, is changing. Students in English 1105, English composition, can expect some changes including when the ECE is offered, what is tested on it and how remediation works.

“The ECE is no longer required for English 2205—critical thinking and writing—which it traditionally has for a really long time,” said Dr. Heather Walker Peterson, chair of the English department. “And then several of the departments were also given the option to remove it as a requirement for their WCE class or written communication course because normally the prerequisite for that class was English 2205 and the ECE, and since it was no longer required for English 2205, then it made sense for it to be removed from those WCE courses, which students take their senior year usually.”

While many students will not be required to pass the ECE for their majors, some majors will still require the ECE. “It’s still required for business communication,” said Peterson. “It’s still required for lots of writing classes because you really should have good editing skills to take a lot of the writing classes in the English program. It’s still required for entrance into the teacher education program because, again, you should have really good communication skills that include the ECE, so it makes sense for requirement for that as well.”

Three things were taken off of the ECE, and they are all related to case. “The first issue of case is using the subjective case after a linking verb. So if I said ‘this is she’ is correct in formal English versus ‘this is her,’” said Peterson. “The second is using a possessive pronoun before a gerund—an –ing word. If I said ‘my visiting you was a problem’ instead of ‘was me visiting you a problem’ … ‘my’ is more formal English.”

The third thing that was removed is the difference between who and whom. In addition to some concepts tested on the exam being changed, the ECE will now be given at a different time

during the semester. “Even though we are no longer requiring the ECE for English 2205, in English 1105, we’re still giving it, but we’re giving it early in the semester in English 1105,” said Peterson. “And then, we’re requiring students during English 1105 to remediate for it, but where the remediation is different is that before students had to remediate in the ALPHA center, and they had to pass a quiz on every area they missed on the ECE. And then, they had to retake the ECE, pass the ECE, and if they didn’t, they had to remediate again, start all over, and retake the ECE. Now when the students remediate, they just have to pass the quiz in every area, and they no longer have to retake the ECE.”

“One of the major reasons [for the changes] is that it was such a speed bump for our students,” said Peterson. “We now have 50 percent of our students transferring in an equivalent of English 1105, and encouraging them to go prepare for an exam and take it before they took 2205 felt like a pretty big challenge for them. Once they’re here, they would have to go and do that. So it was to remove a speed bump. Another one of the issues is that a lot of students put off English 2205, critical thinking and writing, until much later. And part of it is the rigor of the course, but another piece of it was avoiding preparing and taking the ECE.”

Peterson continued, “And in my mind and in the mind of many of the department members, it would be better for the students to take English 2205 earlier rather than putting it off to avoid taking the ECE, which is what we suspect was happening. And we do have evidence, actually, we found out that some of the students who left Northwestern to take English 2205 at nearby community colleges one of the reasons why they did that—not for all of them but for some of them—was putting off the ECE, was a way to avoid it.”

Peterson continued, “And another reason—and probably, I think, the most important reason—is that the ECE is a multiple choice exam, and while it tests familiarity with editing concepts, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those same students are  actually applying those concepts to their papers. So in that way, it really wasn’t an authentic test of their own editing skills … And that’s one of the reasons we moved the ECE to earlier in the semester in English 1105 because then we have more time, we have more papers, to force students to try to proofread, applying the skills.”

“We still feel like it is an important exam,” concluded Peterson. “It shows us especially the familiarity of students with editing, but it also shows us if our faculty are teaching editing as well. So familiarity of concept and teaching editing, but it still doesn’t quite have the fangs it used to have.”

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