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Examples of actual WEPT Essays with Commentaries
The sample essays and commentaries below will help explain how
holistic evaluation works in practice and will also illustrate
how the scoring is determined.
Every year, the California State Lottery takes in millions of dollars, some of which is given back to buyers of lottery tickets in the form of prizes to winners and some of which remains with the State of California. The money that remains with the State is to be used to benefit the people of California.
Write a letter to your state legislator in which you describe one way you would like to see this money spent; explain the reasons for your choice.
*Don't worry if you can't remember your legislator's name. What is important is that you address the position, not necessarily the individual.
Essay #1: Score 12
Dear Congressman Houser:
I would like to propose that the state lottery funds be used to bring the natural environment closer to the majority of the people of this state. This goal can be accomplished through parks, preserves or plantings either within urban communities or in the surrounding areas. Not only will physical and psychological benefits be gained by these residents but possibly economic ones as well.
In existing urban areas, the creation or maintenance of traditional forms of parks or plantings would be the most practical method of contributing to a more natural environment. Streets are usually laid out in geometric patterns with preexisting landscape forms such as hills and streams subdued or destroyed. Monies could be used in this case for maintaining old or creating new parks whenever feasible. Sidewalk tree and flower plantings could also be implemented.
Support could also be provided for helping members of the inner city community to enjoy nearby outlying natural areas. The majority of California's population lives within a few minutes to a few hours of mountains or the ocean. The crowded conditions at places like Yosemite and Muir Woods are well known and it would seem that this abundant usage would indicate that acquisition of more recreational areas would be welcomed by the public. However setting aside the natural landscape would be the first step, but access must follow. The lottery funds could also be used to generate camping programs through parks and recreational departments or to help provide affordable mass transit to these areas.
The planning of new, densely populated communities should include as much of the original natural landscaping as possible. The Chico Parks and Recreation Land Trust recommends setting aside 1/7 of newly developed land for park-like use. Once the native contours have been removed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to restore them and a valuable learning tool of nature has been lost. The city of San Antonio has developed around a meandering river and provides an exciting downtown shopping attraction.
The addition of greenery to the urban environment provides health
benefits to its residents also. As plants utilize carbon dioxide
to produce oxygen, they provide for one of the main by-products
of city living while donating an element essential for human
life. Dense plantings can also aid in filtering noise and pollution.
Natural areas that are accessible to the people can contribute to the social and psychological well-being of the community. People of different ages and ethnic backgrounds are all drawn to and can appreciate the benefits of a green lawn, beautiful flowers, or the shade of a tree. Visit any national park and you will hear languages from all over the world. Providing settings that we can all relate to and enjoy brings us in contact with people we may not otherwise get to know and can promote inter-personal understanding.
An argument may be raised that these areas, by being set aside from development, are not economically benefiting the majority of the population. The value is hard to estimate but if the money is coming from the lottery, the people are in a sense "buying" a certain quality for their life. There would undoubtedly be some jobs created by the initial construction of these areas and some maintenance employment would be necessary, but the attraction of tourists that this type of planning might bring to the community should not be ignored. As a congressman I am sure you are interested in encouraging the tourist industry in our state.
The lottery is often criticized for encouraging the societal emphasis on acquisition of objects as opposed to encouraging the enjoyment of life and the feeling of contentment and well-being. I feel that bringing the natural environment to the urban communities of our state would be providing direct enjoyment to those who support the lottery the most and who most need the benefits nature provides for us.
The above is an impressive performance for a two-hour writing exam. Note the clear organization of the essay in which each paragraph advances and elaborates the topic. In the first paragraph, the writer identifies her idea clearly--"bring the natural environment closer to the majority of the people of the state.” She then defines the exact means she would like to see used to accomplish the goal and identifies benefits to the people of the state from the implementation of her idea. Notice that the language is brief and clear. The writer realizes that the reader--a state senator--is busy, and she does not wish to waste his time with unnecessary verbiage. Notice also that the introductory paragraph is addressed specifically to the interests of a state senator--"the majority of the people of the state."
The next five paragraphs give detailed descriptions of the types of projects on which the writer would like to spend lottery money, following the list presented in the first paragraph. The writer provides examples, probably from her own experience, to support the descriptions as well.
The sixth paragraph considers a possible counterargument that the reader might raise--a lack of economic benefit to the majority of the people of the state. The writer then refutes that counterargument and suggests that in fact her plan might provide jobs.
The last paragraph briefly sums up the position the writer has
taken in the essay.
In other respects, this is also a sound piece of writing. Ideas are clearly expressed, there is considerable sentence variety, and diction is accurate and appropriate.
Essay #2: Score 10
Dear Mr./Ms. Legislator:
I am writing to you regarding a much needed use for the State's income from the California Lottery. I feel that one of the most important areas in which this money could be spent is higher education. The quality, accessibility, and effectiveness of the state's university systems are presently declining as a result (primarily) of lack of funding. When the voters of California originally voted in favor of the creation of the lottery, one of the state's promises was that it would generate revenue for the state's educational systems. Now, several years later, the CSU and UC systems are suffering from severe and frequent budget cuts. I believe that state lottery money should be used to help offset the effects of those cuts.
The quality of education provided by our university systems is currently deteriorating. Decreases in funding have led to cutbacks in part-time faculty positions and reduction of class sections offered each semester. Overly large class sizes, overworked faculty members, and limited access to faculty by students have been the results of the cutbacks. California's college students are being shortchanged by the system. We are paying more and more into the system while we are getting less and less out of it. Many students are unable to complete their degrees on time because required courses are not being offered as frequently as they once were. As a result, students are forced to spend even more money to complete a degree which would have already been completed if there had been no budget cuts.
The accessibility of higher education in our state is also suffering as a result of the state's financial crisis. Historically, access to higher education has been restricted to those who ranked in the upper half (or even quarter) of their graduating high school classes and who could afford the cost of attending college. Although the introduction of various grant, scholarship, and loan programs has helped to defray some of the costs of attending college in recent years, the constant fee increases are virtually forcing more and more current students out of school each semester. The expense of an education ends up being eliminated in order to accommodate the cost of living, which leaves the student with no degree and little opportunity for career advancement. And for those who are not already in the university system, it is becoming harder and harder to become a college student in California.
Higher education is the key to keeping California on the leading edge of our nation's economy. Without well-educated businesspeople, scientists, and other specialists, California can only suffer as companies move to states where they can find more highly qualified employees. Many of our brightest high school students are now choosing to enroll in the university systems of other states, systems which offer a higher-quality education for the students' money. If we continue to drive our best students out of the state, California will become a state inhabited only by the uneducated and by those individuals who are lucky enough to have the means to pay for an education.
Mr./Ms. Legislator, the current condition of the state's higher education system is highly disturbing. If budget cuts cannot be reduced or eliminated, we must do something to offset the damage that they are causing. Channeling revenue from the California Lottery into the state's university system would be one of the most effective ways to help remedy this situation. If the elected officials in Sacramento fail to take action soon, the quality and accessibility of higher education in California will continue to decline. The effects may be disastrous.
As with the preceding essay, this essay is well developed and has a considerable amount of pertinent detail. It tends, however, to be a little more generalized and to focus less on the precise use for the lottery money than on the need for it. For example, the writer lists deteriorating quality, accessibility, and economic effectiveness as problems that could be remedied through the spending of lottery money on higher education. The reader must supply the conclusion, which is that providing lottery money would lead to improvements in all these areas. In addition, the precise improvements are not spelled out.
As it turns out, this essay has five paragraphs and follows a familiar pattern. Using this pattern may have kept the writer from developing the argument more fully, however. Readers of the WEPT do not count the number of paragraphs and are not looking for any particular pattern or formula in the writing. The essay should follow a sequence appropriate to the topic and to the writer's intentions.
There are a few other errors that one could point out; however, this essay, as a first draft, is still a substantial piece of writing that would probably be effective for its purpose and definitely deserves a high passing score.
Essay #3: Score 8
To the honorable Senator Mike Thompson,
While some argue that the lottery is gambling, and therefore should not be allowed, lottery revenue can provide this state with valuable extra funds. Since we have instituted a lottery in California, I feel that it is necessary for me to voice my opinion on how that revenue is allocated. I feel very strongly, that these funds be used for extracurricular activities in the K-12 school system. Whether lottery funds be used for field trips, bands, or sports, these activities are an integral part of the educational process and should be given adequate funding. We could achieve adequate funding if we redirected lottery revenue
Recent budget cuts have prompted school officials to do away with many extracurricular activities. Among those activities that have fell victim to the budgetary axe are band, after school clubs, and sports. Moreover, many sports that do not have large attendance records, girls volleyball, for example, are cancelled. Those sports that are well attended and generate their own revenue, football for example, are usually kept going. This poses a difficult problem for schools, since what it amounts to is that only a small number of students will get to participate, and the majority of those participants will be boys. This type of situation is both unfair and unequall, but could easily be remedied with additional funding.
Education is more than just learning how to read and write. Education is learning how to interact with your peers. Learning how to set goals and achieve those goals, and also learning about teamwork. No other setting can teach these young people those things like after school activities. It does not matter if these activities are sports, marching band, or a field trip to a local museum. They all teach how to interact with other people. I myself was extremely active in after school sports. These activities instilled a variety of attributes within me that I hold very dear. From these activities I learned how to accept defeat, how to be a gracious winner, and most importantly, how to achieve my goals. I realized then, as I do now, that the only way to reach ones goals is through hard work. Without these activities, I do not know what I would have become, which brings me to my next point.
Young people, espicially teenagers, are extremely active. Their boundless energy and curiosity will lead them to seek out many experiences. What type of experiences they seek out will be those experiences that are available to them. If there are no afterschool activities available for these young people, or there is only limited activities available, these young people will seek out other means to displace their energy. Unfortunately, these alternate activities are all to often delinquency and crime. By funding afterschool activities we have a unique opportunity to ensure that young people have a positive environment in which to experience themselves and others.
Extracurricular activities are essential to the education process in the K-12 system. These activities provide young people with a positive environment to grow emotionally in. Furthermore, these activities instill in them skills that we all consider valuable. Skills such as teamwork, acceptance, interaction, and how to achieve goals. Putting lottery revenue toward extracurricular activities would be an investment in the young people of California. I urge you to consider reallocating lottery funds toward extracurricular activities.
As you can see, this essay is more limited in development than the previous two essays. The writer successfully focuses upon an important issue--K-12 extra-curricular activities--and provides some reasons why these activities should be important to a state legislator. However, the writer takes too long to get to his point in the beginning and makes the mistake of introducing a non-issue--whether the state should even be in the business of running a lottery. This writer also assumes that a topic with three parts is advisable; thus he divides extra-curricular activities into field trips, band, and sports. In so doing, he probably leaves out some activities that might have been important to mention. He also trips himself up a bit by naming the three activities as band, after school clubs, and sports later in the letter.
The writer's organization is adequate, though not as strong as it might have been. He blends the proposal and the reasons rather than first announcing his plan and then supporting it. This blending tends to weaken the argument, though not to the point of rendering it invalid.
The writer has some difficulty with spelling and with word choice. He tends to use cliches ("victim to the budgetary axe") and in one case failed to use the correct form of the verb ("have fell victim"). He also relies on empty words such as "extremely" and "unique" rather than providing more specific details.
Having noted all this, however, one can say that this essay does respond at least minimally to all the tasks assigned by the exam topic--the writer addresses the audience, tells what he wishes to see happen, and provides some reasons, with examples, to support his proposal. Moreover, the writer on the whole demonstrates adequate competence in sentence formation, diction, and writing conventions.
Essay # 4: Score 6
Dear Mr. Legislator
When the California State Lottery was introduced to the People of California, it was with the understanding that some of the money taken in from it would be given back to the state of California to be used to benefit the people in some way. Their are many possible uses for this money that can greatly help the population as a hole, but I believe the most benefical use for this money is to put it towards fighting the "drug war" in our state.
In recent years, illegal drugs have been an increasing menace on the stability of our society. When people are addicted to these drugs they tend to not be as productive, or in many cases, be a burden on society because they are not able to work and function normalley. In many cases they will commit crimes, such as robbery or burglary to get the money to buy the drugs that they are addicted to.
I feel that there are two ways in which the money can be spent to the fullest extent to fight the drug problem. One way is to increase the amount of man power and resources in enforcing the laws concerning the sale and possession of illegal drugs. The second way is to develop good rehabilitation programs for the people who are addicted to these drugs so that they can be reinstated as a productive member of our society.
Although many problems face the people of california today, the root of many of these problems can probably be traced back to the use of illegal drugs as being a contributor to the high crime rate. As a public official I am sure you can see for yourself the impact that illegal drugs has had on all of us over the years. The crime rate and drug use has seem to have risen hand in hand with no end in sight. Hopefully you will come to the right decision and make a proposal to the rest of the legislative body that some of the money from the state lottery be allocated to fight the "drug war."
One of the principles of holistic evaluation is to recognize and reward writers for what they are able to achieve in their writing. This writer has been able to focus on a central topic (namely, the use of lottery money to address drug usage in the state), name some negative results of drug usage, propose ways for lottery money to be spent to combat drug use, and provide some reasons that the lottery money should be spent in this way. Although the writer takes some time to get to the point in the beginning, she does state her proposal clearly, if briefly, in the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. Rather than describing her proposal, however, the writer gives details about the problem of drug use. In the third paragraph, though, she does provide a brief description of her plan. Unfortunately, rather than developing these ideas, she reverts back to a discussion of the negative aspects of drug use.
The writer demonstrates a lack of knowledge of her subject by making unsupported generalizations and by trying to establish a causal relationship between drug use and "many (unspecified) problems." She says "although many problems face the people of California today, the root of many of these problems can probably be traced back to the use of illegal drugs as being a contributor to the high crime rate." Then rather than support this rather confusing statement, she attempts to put the responsibility back onto her audience by saying: "As a public official I am sure you can see for yourself the impact that illegal drugs has had on all of us." Moreover, there are numerous and quite disconcerting problems in spelling and in sentence formation, enough to drop the essay below a passing score.
This writer probably would have benefited from writing about a subject with which she was more familiar. It seems likely that she felt that she had to choose a topic that she had heard discussed publicly. Her choice did not allow her to demonstrate her ability to generate an idea and support it and it led her to write sentences that often didn't make much sense. This writer might benefit by retaking the exam at the next administration and choosing to write about a more familiar subject (as did the writers of the previous three essays). However, some of the problems, particularly at the sentence level, indicate that the writer might benefit from doing some practice writing before retaking the exam. In any event, a 6 seems to be a reasonable score for this essay.
Essay # 5: Score 4
Dear Mr. Legislator,
Californias State Lottery takes in millions of dollars each year. What happens with the money? I am aware that some of the money is given back in the form of prizes, but what about the rest.
I believe that this money could be spent on other things. This money could be spent on education for example. There are many good reasons for investing more money in education. I feel that this money would benefit the schools most. I work in a high school and have also visited many others and frankly I believe that those schools are in very bad condition and I am sure it goes for schools in general. The classrooms are over crowded and there are not enough teachers to teach these students. If more was spent on schools I am sure that it would pay off in the long run.
Right now California schools have a very high drop out rate. I ask myself why is this true? This could be because the children get bored and don't learn? Then one might ask, why don't they learn? I feel that there are not enough teachers to motivate these kids to finish school and go to college. Another thing that motivates students are sports. Since schools don't have money they are droping some sports. I feel that sports are very important because they keep the kids minds off bad things.
Like I mentioned before the children are our future if we invest in them it will pay off. If we do there might not be that many dropouts. A lot more students would have positive attitudes about higher education.
Before I end this letter I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I would also like to ask you to please take my opinion in concederation.
The primary problem in this essay is a lack of focus which seems to represent a failure on the part of the writer to develop a specific idea to present. The writer wants lottery money to be spent on education. That much is clear. However, he fails to deliver a plan that would be convincing to a legislator. He does mention overcrowding and lack of teachers as well as underfunding for sports. However these are presented negatively--as problems which need to be solved. Moreover, the solution or plan provided is simply the expenditure of money. The writer relies solely on his own feelings or beliefs to support the plan: "If more was spent on schools I am sure that it would pay off better in the long run."
In addition to the lack of detail and organization, the writer seems unable to use the conventions of standard written English appropriately. There are frequent errors in spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.
You may see some other problems in the essay, but those noted above are the main reasons for the score of 4 on this essay. In a counseling session, this writer would probably be advised to take a writing course before attempting the WEPT again.