Test for CL English Placement Remains Useful

Sandro Mocciolo '23, Staff Writer

College level (CL) courses enhance and define the Loomis Chaffee learning experience by diversifying the curricula, style, structure of the class while increasing the depth of learning. CL courses provide some students with levels of complexity and intensity that develop their knowledge, work ethic, and academic skills—preparing them for higher education and professional careers at large.
As with all classes, the benefits of CL classes truly depend on students feeling comfortable with the level and demand of the class. Accurate placement of students can come easily through a fair and accurate evaluation during their underclassman years to check students’ skill levels and English foundations.
Hence, all sophomore English students have previously taken a two-part proficiency test that informed their placement in CL English Seminar or English III. Designated passing grades on the tests, among other indicators such as the teacher’s recommendation, were necessary in order to join CL English as a junior.
Last year, at a time of unprecedented and abnormal academic practices, no sophomores took this test, with placement determined largely from students’ class performance.
CL English Seminar III teacher, Mr. Scott Purdy, said there was a discussion on reinstating the test in the future, but with one change: receiving a “passing” score would not be required for CL placement. The department would no longer be obligated to reject a student’s request for CL English Seminar simply due to inadequate test scores.

However, to ensure responsible, objective, and equal measures are involved in the junior English placement decisions, this test should be reinstated with its original guidelines, requiring students to receive benchmark scores to be considered for CL placement.
The two-part test, which focuses on grammar and writing skills, ensures that students from different teachers and potentially different schools enter CL English courses with all the fundamental English tools under their belt.
The distinction between different course levels caters to the diversity of students’ academic needs at Loomis. Because CL courses skip or accelerate through certain topics to provide a more rigorous and often discussion-based learning experience, students must prove they already understand material quickly in less time. If teachers have to slow down to catch students up, the pace and progression of the class is disrupted. Furthermore, they must demonstrate a full understanding of said material to actually benefit from the class.
Providing a universal standard by which students’ English skills can be evaluated, the test confirms students have met the requisite skill level that ensures CL courses can accelerate beyond material on which students would otherwise need a review. Since students have historically had several chances throughout the year to improve their skills that can be reflected from an appropriate score, there is no reason a student ready for CL English Seminar should not achieve the benchmark.
After all, success in CL English Seminar depends on a command of grammar, strong reading abilities, and the ability to perform well in high-pressure, often timed writing assessments.
This test requirement can be designed to identify which students are prepared for this rigor. Therefore, the test ensures students are placed in the English class that will best serve their needs as learners and holds everyone to the same standard of learning.
Second, in many ways, the test requirement promotes consistency, objectivity, and equality throughout the English department. Without the test requirement, teachers’ varying definitions of CL English preparedness would become more influential. Requiring the test might decrease the influence of favoritism, diversity of teaching philosophy, strictness in grading, and varying class calibers in the placement decision. Furthermore, the requirement would incentivize teachers to develop similar core English skills in all sophomores, addressing a long-standing student concern of inconsistent teaching, grading, and class difficulty among different teachers of the same course.
Finally, the proficiency test can serve as a universal gauge of students’ learning year after year. If sophomores are evaluated by universal standards yearly, faculty can gain a deeper understanding of which teaching strategies are most effective and engaging. The test not only determines placement but also the skill level of each rising junior class, which would greatly benefit the rising lower classmen.
Of course, this purpose would be achieved even if certain test scores were not requisites to CL English Seminar. However, the incentive this requirement adds would create a testing record that better reflects the ability of the student body, as students would simply put more effort into the test.
By no means should the English proficiency test dominate the decision regarding whether to recommend students for CL English Seminar. Additionally, the test most likely has its imperfections, and should be subject to questioning and improvement. However, in addition to factors such as grades, engagement, and observations of character, the junior English course decision must be informed by a holistic evaluation; tests are some of the most objective methods to do so, providing a standardized requisite for CL advancement.
It is time to give students a fair, transparent, and universal opportunity to demonstrate their preparedness for the rigorous and accelerated CL English Seminar class, and reinstating the placement test could do just that.