A Level Grading Criteria For Essay

D Portfolios

Regardless of writing ability, portfolios will receive the grade of D if, as a whole, the portfolio fails to demonstrate that the student understands how to conduct college-level research as well as how to integrate the results of such research into purposeful writing without committing plagiarism. Otherwise, D portfolios rarely have similar characteristics. The lists below present the danger signals that help predict when a portfolio does not demonstrate competence. The main key to avoiding a D is to meet the criteria for at least a C.

Content and Research

  • Topics, purposes, claims, or focuses are so simplistic and obvious that they do not engage the interest of college-educated readers.
  • Papers have no apparent and appropriate audiences.
  • Papers have no clear purposes.
  • At least one paper is clearly fictional.
  • Papers lack a single focus.
  • Ideas are stated, but they are not developed with details, examples, and discussions.
  • Language or material from sources are consistently presented in ways that are very hard to follow.
  • Unintentional, careless misuse of source material would amount to plagiarism had it been intentional.
  • The portfolio shows weak research and information literacy abilities, such as the use of very few sources, little variety of sources, or little obvious effort to conduct scholarly or professional research.
  • Sources do not support and may even contradict the views that the writer attributes to them.

Organization

  • Openings and endings are overly general, missing, or misleading.
  • Readers cannot readily see the focus of the papers.
  • Paragraphs frequently seem unrelated to each other or repetitive.
  • Paragraphs do not develop logically from start to finish, or they break in illogical places.
  • Paragraphs often end without developing broad, general statements with evidence and reasoning.
  • Transitions between and within paragraphs are weak, ineffective, or misleading.
  • The papers do not establish clear patterns for readers to follow.

Style

  • Sentences often are short and choppy, long and rambling, or vague and wordy.
  • Disordered sentence parts, poor phrasing, and poor word choices make reading difficult.
  • Sentences often disregard the normal rules of standard written English in ways that make ideas hard to understand.
  • The voice often appears inappropriate for the writer’s purpose, genre, and audience.

Mechanics

  • Format, including any use of graphics, is extremely careless or entirely disregards the basic requirements of applicable style guides.
  • Language or material from outside sources is not clearly cited.
  • Documentation style is generally wrong according to the assigned style guide, often in ways that interfere with readers' abilities to find the source material and locate the referenced portions of the sources.
  • Instances of misused source material show careless inattention to important requirements for quoting, paraphrasing, and citing, raising questions of possible plagiarism.
  • Many errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, and usage make reading difficult, or they strongly limit the writer’s credibility.

Grading Student Work

What Purposes Do Grades Serve?

Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson identify the multiple roles that grades serve:

  • as an evaluation of student work;
  • as a means of communicating to students, parents, graduate schools, professional schools, and future employers about a student’s performance in college and potential for further success;
  • as a source of motivation to students for continued learning and improvement;
  • as a means of organizing a lesson, a unit, or a semester in that grades mark transitions in a course and bring closure to it.

Additionally, grading provides students with feedback on their own learning, clarifying for them what they understand, what they don’t understand, and where they can improve. Grading also provides feedback to instructors on their students’ learning, information that can inform future teaching decisions.

Why is grading often a challenge? Because grades are used as evaluations of student work, it’s important that grades accurately reflect the quality of student work and that student work is graded fairly. Grading with accuracy and fairness can take a lot of time, which is often in short supply for college instructors. Students who aren’t satisfied with their grades can sometimes protest their grades in ways that cause headaches for instructors. Also, some instructors find that their students’ focus or even their own focus on assigning numbers to student work gets in the way of promoting actual learning.

Given all that grades do and represent, it’s no surprise that they are a source of anxiety for students and that grading is often a stressful process for instructors.

Incorporating the strategies below will not eliminate the stress of grading for instructors, but it will decrease that stress and make the process of grading seem less arbitrary — to instructors and students alike.

Source: Walvoord, B. & V. Anderson (1998). Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment . San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.

Developing Grading Criteria

  • Consider the different kinds of work you’ll ask students to do for your course.  This work might include: quizzes, examinations, lab reports, essays, class participation, and oral presentations.
  • For the work that’s most significant to you and/or will carry the most weight, identify what’s most important to you.  Is it clarity? Creativity? Rigor? Thoroughness? Precision? Demonstration of knowledge? Critical inquiry?
  • Transform the characteristics you’ve identified into grading criteria for the work most significant to you, distinguishing excellent work (A-level) from very good (B-level), fair to good (C-level), poor (D-level), and unacceptable work.

Developing criteria may seem like a lot of work, but having clear criteria can

  • save time in the grading process
  • make that process more consistent and fair
  • communicate your expectations to students
  • help you to decide what and how to teach
  • help students understand how their work is graded

Sample criteria for a few different types of assignments are available via the following links.

Making Grading More Efficient

  • Create assignments that have clear goals and criteria for assessment.  The better students understand what you’re asking them to do the more likely they’ll do it!
  • Use different grading scales for different assignments.  Grading scales include:
    • letter grades with pluses and minuses (for papers, essays, essay exams, etc.)
    • 100-point numerical scale (for exams, certain types of projects, etc.)
    • check +, check, check- (for quizzes, homework, response papers, quick reports or presentations, etc.)
    • pass-fail or credit-no-credit (for preparatory work)
  • Limit your comments or notations to those your students can use for further learning or improvement.
  • Spend more time on guiding students in the process of doing work than on grading it.
  • For each significant assignment, establish a grading schedule and stick to it.

Light Grading – Bear in mind that not every piece of student work may need your full attention. Sometimes it’s sufficient to grade student work on a simplified scale (minus / check / check-plus or even zero points / one point) to motivate them to engage in the work you want them to do. In particular, if you have students do some small assignment before class, you might not need to give them much feedback on that assignment if you’re going to discuss it in class.

Multiple-Choice Questions – These are easy to grade but can be challenging to write. Look for common student misconceptions and misunderstandings you can use to construct answer choices for your multiple-choice questions, perhaps by looking for patterns in student responses to past open-ended questions. And while multiple-choice questions are great for assessing recall of factual information, they can also work well to assess conceptual understanding and applications.

Test Corrections – Giving students points back for test corrections motivates them to learn from their mistakes, which can be critical in a course in which the material on one test is important for understanding material later in the term. Moreover, test corrections can actually save time grading, since grading the test the first time requires less feedback to students and grading the corrections often goes quickly because the student responses are mostly correct.

Spreadsheets – Many instructors use spreadsheets (e.g. Excel) to keep track of student grades. A spreadsheet program can automate most or all of the calculations you might need to perform to compute student grades. A grading spreadsheet can also reveal informative patterns in student grades. To learn a few tips and tricks for using Excel as a gradebook take a look at this sample Excel gradebook.

Providing Meaningful Feedback to Students

  • Use your comments to teach rather than to justify your grade, focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work.
  • Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment.
  • Comment primarily on patterns — representative strengths and weaknesses.
  • Avoid over-commenting or “picking apart” students’ work.
  • In your final comments, ask questions that will guide further inquiry by students rather than provide answers for them.

Maintaining Grading Consistency in Multi-sectioned Courses (for course heads)

  • Communicate your grading policies, standards, and criteria to teaching assistants, graders, and students in your course.
  • Discuss your expectations about all facets of grading (criteria, timeliness, consistency, grade disputes, etc) with your teaching assistants and graders.
  • Encourage teaching assistants and graders to share grading concerns and questions with you.
  • Use an appropriate group grading strategy:
    • have teaching assistants grade assignments for students not in their section or lab to curb favoritism (N.B. this strategy puts the emphasis on the evaluative, rather than the teaching, function of grading);
    • have each section of an exam graded by only one teaching assistant or grader to ensure consistency across the board;
    • have teaching assistants and graders grade student work at the same time in the same place so they can compare their grades on certain sections and arrive at consensus.

Minimizing Student Complaints about Grading

  • Include your grading policies, procedures, and standards in your syllabus.
  • Avoid modifying your policies, including those on late work, once you’ve communicated them to students.
  • Distribute your grading criteria to students at the beginning of the term and remind them of the relevant criteria when assigning and returning work.
  • Keep in-class discussion of grades to a minimum, focusing rather on course learning goals.

For a comprehensive look at grading, see the chapter “Grading Practices” from Barbara Gross Davis’s Tools for Teaching.

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