Writing Assessment By Numbers?

In a stack of papers called Grading.

  • Sep
  • 01
  • 2008

Having just finished grading a small writing sample from my English 1 Support students (those students who we’ve identified through test scores and grades as in need of a little extra for them to make it through English 1), I figured I’d share how I did this first one and welcome any evaluation of my method.

I struggled with how to grade this. Since this class counts as an elective and not an English class, and since so much of the point of this class is tied up in letting the students see success here so they will see success elsewhere, I decided to let the number of errors do the work:

The Scale

# of errors % earned
0 100
1-2 90
3-4 80
5-7 70
8-10 60
11+ 50

At the top of the paper, I’ve written whichever of the following presented themselves as problems in the paper: punctuation, spelling, capitalization. On Tuesday, they’ll work on a rewrite. I’ll also share the above scale so students will have a good idea the number of errors I saw. Hopefully, with awareness of the areas that were problematic, knowing the number of errors, and a few days’ distance from their writing, they’ll be able to fix a few things. I also hope that a lot of what I saw was simply sloppy writing as opposed to lack of knowledge.

Can I Get A Remedy?

Grades are posted. I have a host of problems using this method and only a few solutions in my head right now. I want to see what you think about this. Remember, this is a class full of students who scored one to two years below grade level. As freshmen, they are with me if they’ve demonstrated familiarity with seventh or sixth grade standards; those that demonstrated familiarity with eighth grade standards went on to English 1 and those at fifth grade or lower are in READ 180. So how do I grade their writing? How do I grade any of their work? Does the fact that this class counts for elective credit have any impact?


1. Alex says:

[9/2/2008 - 11:10 am]

The main thing I see is that there’s currently no reward for ‘good writing’ – I’d put some bonus points in, personally.

2. Todd says:

[9/2/2008 - 3:19 pm]

Wait, the reward for good writing is a higher score. Do you mean about the kid who tries sentence variety and, even though there are a lot of mistakes, at least he tried something different? There were a few like that and I was at a loss for them.

I can’t embrace bonus points. I don’t give extra credit and don’t really believe in it as a concept. If it’s something I expect, I need to fit it into my expectations. Good writing is the difference between a C (average, so no especially fabulous sentences) and an A (excellent, full of articulate phrasing).

It’s funny you mention good writing because that post is in the works and should be published in a day or so.

3. Bing says:

[9/8/2008 - 10:01 am]

I agree with Alex, but not about bonus points. If you want the kids to write well and improve their writing, then ask them to do it. For example, if you want them to write sentences of varied structures and lengths, make that a requirement. If they do it, they get a good grade, if they don’t they get a poor grade. By just pointing out errors, you seem to be reinforcing the mistakes they make rather than encouraging them to take chances and improve their writing. Like you said, “If it’s something I expect, I need to fit it into my expectations.”

4. Todd says:

[9/8/2008 - 6:39 pm]

The only reason I assessed this by the numbers is because I knew I would issue a rewrite and this way students at least had some idea the number of errors they should expect to fix. I do not agree that pointing out errors reinforces them. At some level of development, writers need to be told what’s wrong, what’s keeping this piece from being better.

For this piece of writing, I just wanted them to fix the mistakes they made. I will look for more complex sentence structures and the like later. And I think you’re right, making that an explicit requirement is key. Take a look at Encourage Risks for more on this topic.

5. Elona Hartjes says:

[9/26/2008 - 4:29 pm]

When you talk about errors do you mean the same kind of error through out? If they keep making the same error, say incorrect use of end punctuation is that one error since it’s consistent? I kind of look at it that way when I mark my students.

6. Todd says:

[9/26/2008 - 6:07 pm]

Yeah, I kind of look at it that way, too. But since I’m not used to grading such short pieces of writing, I’m having a hard time. But I pretty much keep to different types of errors, though if it’s flagrant, I’ll mark it and count it each time. Sometimes, those errors come just from laziness and not due to lack of skill. I think students, especially on the first essay, need to know how much they can get away with and marking/counting each instance can serve a purpose.