Pacific Collegiate School: Writing Across The Curriculum « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

Pacific Collegiate School: Writing Across The Curriculum

Pacific Collegiate School:
Writing Across the Curriculum

Pacific Collegiate School

Santa Cruz, California
Founded 1999
410 students
Grades 7-12
75% White, 10% Asian, 9% Hispanic, 2% African-American*
2% English language learners
7 % special needs
5% receive subsidized meals
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit 

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2008.

The goal of writing across the curriculum is to have students ready to write at an advanced college level upon entry into college, according to the principal of

“The more students write, the better chance they have of processing the
things that they are learning in a meaningful way; and the more practice they get with writing, the more confident they become and the better prepared
they are for college,” the principal said.

The school uses the Modern Language Association format of writing, which focuses on writing mechanics and documentation of sources and is used by high school students, undergraduates and some professional writers. Advanced Placement and Scholastic Aptitude Test rubrics also are employed.


All PCS classes incorporate journal writing: writing to a specific prompt, description of a character’s development, or a summary of a reading passage.

Writing across the curriculum first began at PCS in English and history, which were horizontally aligned, before branching out into the other subjects. For example, seventh-graders take Introduction to American Literature and Introduction to American History; eighth-graders study Ancient World Literature and Ancient World History.

Starting in 10th grade, students work with AP rubrics. Student essays are graded on content, style, organization, category, and corrections just as they would be graded on the AP test. In the AP US History class, students also answer a document based question, one of the essay types on the AP test. In this essay, students construct a logical historical argument, using primary sources as evidence.

SAT rubrics are added in 11th grade; in 12th grade, writing is geared toward the college essay and college coursework. Students write to the prompt on the college application for one of the colleges to which they are applying, the University of California (UC) or Stanford University.


Approximately 25 percent of the school’s budget, or $50,000, is spent on instructional materials and supplies that support writing. The professional development that is held at the beginning of the school year for writing across the curriculum costs about $20,000 for the two days. One class section of the after-school tutoring program costs the school about $16,000. Teachers hold office hours as part of their professional responsibility at no additional pay.

Future plans include the creation of a writing lab, staffed by a full-time English teacher ($50,000 per year), with additional undetermined costs for staff to attend conferences and in-services to launch the writing lab.

Approximately two to three hours each month is spent on professional development for writing across the curriculum. At the beginning of every school year, two full in-service days are devoted to the program. Teachers are then given the opportunity to work for an additional five days, per diem, on a project of their choice, either individually or in small groups.

Lessons Learned

Writing across the curriculum helps students think more clearly, organize information, and present it effectively, the PCS principal said.

Another benefit for students is consistency; they know what each teacher expects in terms of writing because their prior and future teachers have the same expectations.

Student writing provides insights for teachers. A PCS science teacher said, “What students say through their writing and how they say it has been a big clue to teachers across the disciplines that a student has either grasped a concept or may need help beyond the standard classroom.”

Grading writing assignments for multiple classes of students requires a lot of time, both during the school day and beyond.

Teachers of subjects other than English lack grammatical training and may be unclear on the precise kinds of feedback to give to students. Some teachers of subjects other than English have complained about having to teach writing, which they feel is the English teacher’s job.


In school year 2006-2007, 158 students in 11th and 12th grades took one or more AP exams: 96 exams had a score of 5, 107 exams scored a 4 and 84 exams got a 3. That year 55 PCS students took the SAT with a writing average of 646; 491 was the state average.

Teachers interviewed reported a feeling of success in their teaching of writing by watching the improvement in students’ writing between seventh grade and when they leave for college. And parents, many of whom teach at nearby UC Santa Cruz, have told teachers how much they appreciate their children writing in subjects other than English.


Center on Educational Governance
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
3470 Trousdale Parkway
Waite Phillips Hall, Room 901
Los Angeles, CA 90089-4039

Phone: (213) 740-0697
Fax: (213) 740-4184
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