What Does a "Needs Work" Score Mean?

FAQ For Students with a Needs Work Portfolio Score 

I Received a Score of “Needs Work” on My Portfolio.  What Does That Mean?

A portfolio score of Needs Work (NW) means exactly what it says: at least two faculty members who read your portfolio believe that your writing needs some work.  Usually, the comments that your readers made on your score sheets will indicate exactly what they want you to work on—it could be something specific, like your ability to construct thesis-driven arguments, or something more general, like your ability to use standard written English.

In practice, this means that you’ll need to concentrate on developing your writing over the course of your junior year.  George Cusack, the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), will help you in that process.  And, when your writing shows sufficient progress, he’s the one that will clear you for a Pass on your portfolio.

Please keep in mind that a NW score is not a judgment of your overall abilities as a scholar.  It’s not a measure of your intelligence, your talent, or whether you belong at Carleton.  It’s not even really a measure of your general ability as a writer.  Rather, it’s a very specifically calibrated measure of certain writing skills that are essential for effective academic writing. 

There’s a reason we call this score “Needs Work” and not “Failure”: the only message the college is trying to send through the NW score is that your writing skills need to develop a bit before senior comps and graduation.  We think of the score as an offer of help from the college to better prepare you for the academic challenges ahead, and we hope you take it in that spirit.


So, What Happens Now That I’ve Received a NW Score?

Before you file for graduation—and ideally before the end of your junior year—you’ll need to change your portfolio score from “Needs Work” to “Pass.”

In order to do that, you’ll need to do three basic things:

  1. Meet with Dr. George Cusack, the WAC Director, and create a writing plan
  2. Submit all of the writing assignments you complete in all of your Carleton classes, from now until you pass your portfolio requirement
  3. Write a short reflective essay at the end of each term to demonstrate that you’re thinking about your writing and working towards the goals in your writing plan

The nuts and bolts of this process are explained a bit more thoroughly in the Brief Guide to Completing a Needs Work Portfolio.


Do I Have to Do All of That?  Can’t I Just Revise My Portfolio?

No, you can’t just revise and resubmit your portfolio, and yes, you really do have to go through the process described above. 

The issue here isn’t that the portfolio, as a document, is flawed.  The issue is that, based on your portfolio, your faculty readers believe that you need to improve certain writing skills.  Going back and revising the portfolio itself, now that you have their feedback, won’t really demonstrate development—it will just demonstrate that you can respond to feedback on a specific document (this is an important writing skill in itself, but not the only skill you’ll need).  To significantly improve your writing skills, you need to work on new pieces of writing.

Besides, this process is meant to be forward-looking, and it’s not meant to take up a great deal of your time.  We know that your classes keep you busy, and so the most efficient way to proceed is to focus on writing that you’re already producing for your classes, rather than trying to revise old assignments just to meet this requirement.


What Happens If I Don’t Follow the Steps You Describe Above?

If you don’t schedule your initial meeting with Dr. Cusack, submit work according to the timeline described in the guide, or write your reflective essay each term, the WAC office will place a hold on your enrollment, meaning you won’t be able to enroll in new classes until you make up the missing steps.  We’d really rather not do that, though, so please keep on top of things.


What Happens If My Classes Don’t Have Any Writing Assignments? 

If a class genuinely has no writing of any kind, then there’s nothing for you to submit.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that most classes have some writing in them, even if it isn’t a traditional essay.  Short assignments, journals, lab reports, essay exams, and anything else that requires you to put words together counts as writing, and you should submit it.


I Wrote a Few Things for My ________________________ Class, but I’m Not Really Happy with Them and/or I Don’t Think They’re Particularly Relevant to My Portfolio.  Do I Still Need to Submit Them?

Yes, you really do need to submit everything from every class.  Even if a given assignment doesn’t directly address your writing goals, it can show that you’re developing as a writer in other ways, which can only help you.  If you feel that the writing you completed in a particular class really doesn’t reflect your abilities as a writer, then you’ll have an opportunity to explain that in your reflective essay.

You should also keep in mind that submitting a given piece of writing can never hurt you or set you back in the portfolio process.  So, you’re better off submitting everything and letting the WAC Director decide what’s relevant and irrelevant.


Should I Submit Assignments That I Write Collaboratively with Other Students?

Yes, but if at all possible you should include a note (just a sentence or two on the essay itself or in your reflective essay) indicating how you contributed to that assignment.


I Have an Assignment That I Think Counts as Writing, but It’s in a Format That I Can’t Upload to Moodle.  How Should I Submit It?

Writing assignments in non-traditional forms (e.g. multimedia pieces, oral performances, physical objects, web pages, etc.) can most certainly count towards your portfolio.  If you have an assignment that you’re unsure how to upload, you should contact Dr. Cusack.


How Does This Process Does It End, and What Happens When It’s Over?

At the end of each term, Dr. Cusack will review all of the work you submitted to the Moodle site that term (particularly the reflective essay), and weigh it against the goals in your writing plan.  If he feels that you have sufficiently addressed your writing goals, then he will clear your for a Pass.

At that point, the Registrar will change your portfolio score from “Needs Work” to “Pass,” and your portfolio requirement is complete.


How Long Does This Process Take?

That depends on two things: what kind of writing you do in your classes, and how much effort you put into your writing (including the reflective essay you write for your portfolio).

That said, most students who receive a Needs Work score complete the portfolio requirement by the end of their junior year, and it’s entirely possible to complete it after a single term.


Does the Needs Work Score Appear on My Transcript?  Who Can See It?

Writing portfolio scores do not appear on your transcript, and the only people at Carleton who have access to them are administrators who can see your advising records.  That includes your advisor (obviously), the Dean’s office, and the Registrar, but not your individual course instructors.

Furthermore, once you complete the portfolio process, your score will change from “Needs Work” to “Pass,” and there will be no indication, even in your advising records, that you ever had a Needs Work score.


What Happens If I Don’t Complete the Process by the End of My Senior Year?

Technically, you need to complete the portfolio requirement in order to file for graduation.  So, if you don’t complete the process, you don’t graduate.

That should obviously serve as an incentive to take the process seriously, but it’s worth keeping in mind that in the entire history of the portfolio program, only a handful of students have failed to graduate because they failed to meet the portfolio requirement.  Again, this process isn’t meant to be a barrier between you and graduation; it’s meant to help you develop the skills you need to graduate.


Where Can I Get Help with My Writing?

As a Needs Work student, you’re welcome to meet with Dr. George Cusack, the WAC Director at any time to get feedback on a specific piece of writing or to generally discuss how you can improve as a writer.  His office is in Room 124 Weitz Center, and he has office hours set aside each term specifically for portfolio students.

You can also get assistance from the Writing Center on 4th floor Libe.  ESL students, in particular, might want to meet with Renata Fitzpatrick, the Assistant Director of the Writing Center and the Coordinator for ESL Writing.  You can schedule an appointment with Renata or one of the other Writing Center Consultants on their website.

Finally, you should speak to your advisor about your portfolio and ask if they have any recommendations.  In most cases, your advisor will have access to the work you submit to your portfolio through Moodle.  If you’re struggling with a particular skill or unsure how to meet your portfolio requirement through your major courses, your advisor can help.