< Portfolio 1: Writing a Summary/Response for an Educated, Public Audience

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.

Introduction: To 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 the Times.

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:

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):

1.     Have you clearly identified the article and author in your summary?

2.     Have 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 your summary?

5.     Have you attributed information to the author in your summary (using author tags)?

6.     Have you clearly identified your main point in your response?

7.     Does your response focus on the main point you are making?

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?

10.  Have you provided (if appropriate) personal experience as evidence to support your main point?

11.  Have you provided reasons to support your main point and backed up those reasons with evidence or analysis?

12.  Have you organized your response in a reasonable manner? (In other words, a manner that your readers should find easy to follow.)

13.  Are 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?

14.  Are 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 spelling errors?)

15.  Have 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.

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.