Archive for May, 2010

As I’ve listened to faculty across the University talk about how they evaluate student writing, I’ve been increasingly interested in the many different ways we arrive at value judgments, particularly in the difference between analytical and holistic scoring guides.

Typically, an analytical scoring guide (or rubric) includes a list of features the finished product must include (e.g. “introduction that defines the problem” or “references to at least two articles from peer-reviewed journals”) and assigns a point value to each one. A paper’s grade is then determined by adding the points awarded to each feature. By contrast, a holistic scoring guide describes the target qualities of the finished product collectively, often in a form like this: “An A paper will . . .” “A B paper will . . .”

While analytical scoring is friendlier to number crunching, it can introduce some frustrations for faculty who see students technically fulfilling the requirements of the scoring guide but still not producing finished products that meet teachers’ overall quality goals. By contrast, holistic scoring supports overall quality goals but in a way that makes it difficult for faculty to design a grading system that responds directly to students use of specific writing skills.

One solution to this dilemma might be to choose analytical scoring for situations in which you are teaching new writing skills and want to be able to focus on students’ success in using those particular skills when you grade the assignment, and choose holistic scoring for situations in which students are meant to be demonstrating a collection of skills they should already have mastered.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that lower-level courses will always use analytical scoring and upper-level courses would always use holistic scoring, but it might mean that you would be more likely to use analytical scoring in evaluating assignments early in an instructional sequence (when you have just introduced a new concept or skill) and holistic scoring later when you want students to demonstrate mastery of that skill in a larger context of other writing skills they have already mastered.

I would be very interested in hearing more about your own experience using analytical or holistic scoring.

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