In Summer 2015 the Philosophy Department, as required by the University, conducted an assessment of writing proficiency by philosophy majors. This assessment was based on 10 argumentative philosophical essays written by philosophy majors for an upper division philosophy course taken in Spring 2015. Only essays by advanced majors with at least 95 SCH were assessed. Papers graded were on a variety of philosophical topics from different courses. In each case the assignment was to compose an essay with an easily identifiable thesis that one defends with clear arguments; anticipate relevant objections to essay’s thesis and attempt to meet them; clearly define key terms; engage relevant primary and secondary literatures; and include appropriate citations.
The essays used were rendered anonymous by the department head and then turned over to two faculty graders. These graders used a rubric calling for assessment of each essay along 5 dimensions: i) clarity and argumentative appropriateness of thesis; ii) clarity and persuasiveness of support for thesis; iii) treatment of/response to objections to thesis; iv) scholarship & engagement of relevant primary and secondary literatures; v) writing mechanics (punctuation, grammar, style). For each dimension 4 grades were possible: 4/excellent, 3/satisfactory, 2/needs improvement, 1/deficient. The score for all dimensions are added to yield an overall average score: 20-17=excellent; 16-13=satisfactory; 12-9=needs improvement; <8=deficient. The department regards that score as a measure of the extent to which a student has achieved the learning outcomes it established for a competently written argumentative philosophical essay. The department’s targets were: i) at least 25% excellent; ii) at least 75% satisfactory or better; iii) no more than 25% needs improvement; iv) 0% deficient.
Of the ten essays assessed, 40% were in the excellent range, and 100% were satisfactory or better. Thus, the department is happy to announce it all of our targets were achieved in 2015.