Grading Essays is Fun with the Right Rubric

My kids thought I was joking on Monday. That day, I had shown them — nay, given them a copy of — the rubric for their election test.

25 pts.  — Essay is complete, well-written and insightful with a minimum of grammar or mechanics errors. It includes appropriate examples from class discussion, if available.

20 pts.  — Essay is mostly complete, well-written and has a few grammar or mechanics errors. It may not include appropriate examples from class discussion.

15 pts.  — Essay is incomplete. It includes no available examples from class discussion.

12 pts. — Essay includes a misspelled candidate name and is otherwise perfect. Or, the respondent put this number where it says, “grade” and the essay is otherwise perfect. Or, the essay form is not correctly filled out and the essay is otherwise perfect.

10 pts.  — Essay is incomplete and very poorly written. To say that the essay contains grammatical errors is a gross understatement. There are enough grammatical errors here to stuff a moose, a bear and three caribou. It includes no available examples from class discussion.

5 pts.  — Instead of an essay, the respondent wrote, “I understand that I have failed in my duty as a student to prepare for the test. Next time, I’ll take Mr. Baxter seriously when he says we should study if we aren’t familiar with the material. I was unfamiliar with the material, and it’s my own fault.”

0 pts.  — Essay space is blank, or was not attached to the given rubric.

I gave them a fair shot to study. Each of the four following prompts were on the study guide. At least five of my students — including three of my brightest — took the 5-pt. route on at least one essay.

I guess they were used to easier tests, and easier essay questions from my master teacher. Next time, they’ll look at the study guide.

There’s more, but to understand its implications of what I’m about to tell you, you should know the background.

The first five minutes of class is journal time. As my students know, I answer all questions related to the journal topic, during this time.

Consider this: The two hardest essay questions had been journal entries this week. One of those journals was on the day of our writing portion.

That said, there were some very well done essays. I’ll post excerpts tomorrow.

Moral of the story? Make the first test fair, and make it the hardest. Don’t have it any other way.


  1. This rubric is cracking me up. I love the 5-point bailout option, and the fact that they took you up on it makes it even better.

  2. I figure it gets the point across and makes them feel even worse about not preparing.

    Oh, and just so it’s clear that a well-written, insightful essay doesn’t automatically get full credit: I interpret “complete” as staying on-topic while remaining factually correct with enough facts to show competence.

  3. jimcavendish

    It’s great to see some humor in rubrics. Too often they’re written for some (tenured!) fuddy duddy at the Dept of Education.

    I’ve been really worrying lately about the quality of in-class essays vs. ones where students have 3 weeks to draft and rewrite (I teach college freshman). The in-class essays are WAY better, and I think it’s because the students actually focus for 90 minutes to write the paper rather than blogging/IMing/gaming etc. while they “write” their ‘take home’ essay.

    The only thing I don’t like is heading home with a stack of paper and having to read handwriting. I like to grade Word documents I collect via email or Blackboard…I’m using a cool new add-in for Word 2007 called “Annotate” (original) available here: http://www.11trees.com

    Jim C

  4. In-class essays always seem to turn out pretty well, even if the kids are nervous about it to start with.

  1. 1 Students Sound Off, and Vociferously: Part 1 « On the Tenure Track

    […] teacher, teacher, teaching, test These are some of my best essays, all graded according to my rubric. As promised in the same post, they are excerpted as […]




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