Portfolio 1: Writing a Summary/Response for an Educated, Public Audience
Write a summary/response to an article that’s part of the
discussion on the issue of SAT Use in
College Admissions. This summary/response should be written as an extended
Letter-to-the-Editor of the New York
Times (750-1000 words) and should be accompanied by a compressed version
(or abstract) of the same letter but of a length not exceeding 200 words, which
is the typical length of the edited versions of published letters to the NYT.
complete this portfolio, you will read, summarize, and respond to various
articles about a publicly debated issue, specifically the ongoing debate over
use of the SAT as a major criterion for admission to universities. Then you
will select one of your summary/response essays to revise and polish into a
form appropriate for an extended New York
Times Letter to the Editor. You will then reduce this extended letter and
generate an “abstract” or mini-letter of approximately the length published by
Workshop Draft Due Date:TBA
Due Date:September 22, 2003
Worth:20% of your final grade
Purposes for this Portfolio: To understand and critically
examine a written argument; to communicate an author’s argument and your
response to that argument.
Audience: Address your essay to typical readers of the New York Times, which you can assume is
a general, though well-educated, audience. Your essay will take the form of a
Letter-to-the-Editor of the New York
Times. Assume that your audience has not read the article you’re responding
to, although they are likely to be familiar with the issue, in part because it
has been dealt with to some extent in the Times.
(Specifically, the Diana Jean Schemo article published by the Times, laid out the basics of the debate
and documented an excerpt from the proposal made by Dr. Richard C. Atkinson,
President of the University of California
system.) Therefore, your audience can be assumed to know only as much about the
debate as the Schemo article describes. Therefore, they will need for you to
provide a summary of the article you’re responding to and make a connection—however brief--somewhere in your letter to
the Schemo article. This audience will expect you to thoroughly support and
explain each point you make in response to the article you’ve selected. In
addition, they will expect you to use a reasonable tone and show respect for
your readers and sources by avoiding slang. You can assume that certain style
and formatting decisions (such as abbreviation and citation methods) will be
made by editors of the Times. You
should therefore apply MLA style guidelines and allow the editors at the Times to revise as they see fit. You
should think of this letter as a specific application of the principles of
summary and response writing, generated for a particular context--a
Letter-to-the-Editor of the New York
Times. Once you’ve completed your extended letter, you should write a very
brief version of it—like an abstract to an article—of <200 words, since this
length is more typical of the letters published by the Times.
Portfolio Content: Please
submit your essay in a folder clearly labeled with your name and email address.
Your portfolio should include:
final draft of your polished summary/response essay, formatted with
one-inch margins, double-spaced lines, and a readable 12-point font
final draft of your mini-letter (<200 words), anticipating the length
the Times will cut your letter
rough drafts of your polished summary/response essay
initial summaries and/or responses to the assigned articles (these will be
completed as part of the homework for this portfolio)
comments you received from classmates
Essay Requirements: It
is understood at the outset that your letter would be compressed or reduced if
it were published in the NYT. Therefore, it is not necessary for you to worry
about your extended letter being too long for the context. You should write a
full letter, of 750 to 1,000 words in length. This letter will be a specific
application of summary and response principles, written for the specific
context of the Times. Roughly
one-third of the letter should be devoted to summary. In your summary, clearly
identify the article to which you are responding and provide a fair and
accurate description of the author’s purpose and main ideas and connect this
summary to the Schemo article, which your readers will be familiar with. Your
response to the article can indicate that you agree or disagree with the
article, have applied interpretation/reflection processes or have analyzed the
article. You should clearly state your main and supporting points in your
response. You should support your points with evidence (personal experience,
information from sources, and analysis/explanation). Your second, shortened
version of the letter will compress the focus of your longer letter, and will
necessarily move more quickly into response.
Grading Criteria: I will check your portfolio for
completeness. In addition to checking your process materials, which document
your steady progress and engagement, I will ask myself the following questions
as I read your extended Letter-to-the-Editor (#16 applies to your shortened version
of the letter):
you clearly identified the article and author in your summary?
you clearly identified the main point of the article in your summary?
3.Have you clearly identified other key points related to
the main point?
4.Have you used quotations and paraphrases effectively in
5.Have you attributed information to the author in your
summary (using author tags)?
6.Have you clearly identified your main point in your
7.Does your response focus on the main point you are
8.Does your main point indicate a clear understanding of
the essay you are summarizing? (In other words, are you responding to a key
idea or main point made by the author of the essay you are summarizing?)
9.Have you used quotations and paraphrases effectively to
support your main point?
you provided (if appropriate) personal experience as evidence to support your
you provided reasons to support your main point and backed up those reasons
with evidence or analysis?
you organized your response in a reasonable manner? (In other words, a manner
that your readers should find easy to follow.)
your summary and response written to a general, though well-educated audience
such as we would expect to be readers of the New York Times?
your summary and response written in a form that conforms to standard American
English? (In other words, is it generally free of grammatical, mechanical, and
you applied standard MLA citation method (as needed)?
16.As I read your mini-letter (abstract), I will
evaluate its success at reducing the content of your overall response to a much
shorter form. I will ask: Does the shortened version capture the essence of
your overall point? Does it seem publishable in the NYT?
Articles:We will read the texts listed below
during our work on this portfolio. For your response you will choose either the
Atkinson full speech (primary source) or the Sacks, Williams, Bollinger, or
Thernstrom essay (secondary sources about Atkinson’s speech) to respond to.
of U. of California
Seeks To End SAT Use in Admissions” by Diana Jean Schemo in The New
York Times, February 17, 2001,
Failing Test” by Peter Sacks in the Nation
(04/02/2001) or “Radicals Undermine College
Admissions Criteria” by Walter E. Williams in Human Events 58.13 on 04/08/02
Over SAT Masks Perilous Trends in College Admissions” by Lee Bollinger.
Published in the Chronicle of Higher
Education 48.44 on 07/12/02or “Admissions Impossible” by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom in the
National Review 53.5 on 3/19/01.
few additional NYT articles, editorials, op-ed pages, and
letters-to-the-editor on the subject of the SAT to get a sense of the
conversation as well as to familiarize you with the style and formality of
writing in the NYT.
Additional optional readings with descriptive and
evaluative annotations in MLA form:
Atkinson, Richard C. “Achievement Versus Aptitude in College
Admissions,” Issues in Science and
Technology 18.2 (Winter 01/02), 31-36.
In this article, published subsequent to Atkinson’s proposal
and the uproar that followed, Richard C. Atkinson, President of the University
of California system, clarifies his position on the SATs, noting for instance
his general support for standardized testing, although not the SAT I when used
for admissions purposes. Atkinson’s article includes a valuable set of
additional, recommended readings in the bibliography.
Lemann, Nicholas, “The SAT Meritocracy,” Washington Monthly 29.9 (September 1997), 32-36.
Lemann, a regular columnist for the Atlantic Monthly, is author of several criticisms of American
education and is particularly concerned about entrenched class-ism in U.S.
schooling. Lemann’s article presents a stinging condemnation of the SAT’s
tendency to reward the “mandarin elite.” This article was written before
Atkinson’s proposal and may be particularly valuable as a representative voice
of those who criticized the SAT before Atkinson’s well-publicized proposal.