PREPARING TO TEACH
Assessing Students’ Learning
GRADING WRITING ASSIGNMENTS
When you’re grading a stack of papers, it’s easy to mark mistakes or note negative points and give a grade—nothing more. But a positive word or two might make a big difference to students. When you need to point out an error, telling students to “Clarify this” may be like telling them to “Be tall”; they might not know how to do what you ask. Consider how you can help students see why they might have made the error, to help them focus their thinking on areas where they need the most work.
Bean (2001) offers four recommendations for grading essay exams. First, don’t look at students’ names when you read the exams, or have students write an ID number (not a Social Security Number) on the test instead. This way, you’ll be able to eliminate grader bias. Second, grade the exam one question at a time, rather than reading the whole exam of each student. This will help with grading reliability.
The third recommendation Bean provides is to shuffle the exams after you complete each question so that you read them in a different order. Record scores in such a way that you don’t know what a student received on Question 1 when you grade Question 2. Finally, if time permits, you should skim a random sample of exams before you make initial decisions about grades. Your goal is to establish anchor papers that represent prototype A, B, and C grades. Then, when you come to a difficult essay, ask yourself, “Is this better or worse than my prototype B or C?”
Instead of using anchor papers to determine grades, you may find it beneficial to use a scoring rubric to grade essays and papers through Primary Trait Analysis (PTA). Developing a PTA scale requires four steps.
The advantage of using rubrics or PTA is that, rather than writing out extensive comments, you score the essay or assignment using the rubric, making this an efficient way of grading. Students can refer to the rubric when writing the assignment, as well as use their scored rubric to examine their work’s strengths and weaknesses. This method also increases inter-grader reliability when multiple individuals grade assignments. See Walvoord and Anderson’s Effective Grading (1998) for an in-depth discussion of PTA.