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In the second episode on assessing student writing, Meg Morgan explains how to use primary trait scoring and holistic grading.
Welcome to Teaching and Learning Matters. This is Meg Morgan, Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and a Faculty Associate with the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Today, in the second of two episodes, I am going to talk about primary trait and holistic grading of student writing.
The way we grade can vary. For example, we can use something called “primary trait scoring.” We set up a list of criteria that measures the success of -- for example -- a well-done research-based project. So, we might say that there are four things that indicate a grade of an A: all content must be correct; the assignment must be organized from most important information to least important; all documentation of sources must be accurate; all secondary sources must be fully integrated into the personal ideas of the writer. These are pretty good criteria for a successful research project. So, when you read the student essay, you look for only those four criteria, and grade based on only those. The list of criteria will change based on the genre of the assignment.
But what if a student misspells words in the assignment? According to the set of criteria, misspelling does not affect the grade. Of course, we want our students to write correctly, so if that is true, then you have to add that to the list of criteria. We could also assume that correctness is the norm, but I would certainly articulate that norm to my students, not take it for granted.
Once you have set up the criteria, you also need to establish a scale. Within the criteria, what constitutes an A, B, C, D or F? You might also read through the essays you have collected to see where most of the assignments fall. You may find by reading the essays that many of your students have not met one of the criteria, and, in that case, you may have to adjust your criteria or your scale.
There is, of course, another way to assess writing: it’s called holistic grading. In this type of assessing, you do not separate out different criteria, but find one criterion that, if met, would assure a successfully written project. You want, for example, in a researched-based project, the reader to come to understand and believe the content. Thus you would read for credibility of the content, for appropriateness of sources, for credibility of the writer. You need to explain how to achieve credibility to your students, and the grade would be based on whether or not you can trust what the student has written. Things like spelling, then, become a credibility issue rather than a correctness issue. Would I believe anyone who cannot spell? Probably not.
After you have graded all your students’ work, there are some things you can do to make their writing and your grading even more significant. First, if you see common errors throughout the work, then address those errors to the whole class. If no one in the class knows how to write an introduction, show them examples of what you think is a good introduction. For example, have them practice on the essay you just graded that matches that model. Second, make yourself available to conference about their grades. You can often clear up many questions with a short conversation. Finally, don’t change the grade either up or down unless you have made a significant mistake.
Thank you. And remember: Teaching and Learning Matters.
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