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Dilemmas in Assessment of Student Writing

Satisfactory Essays
Being a new teacher of English, I find the assessment of compositions to be a concept I question and struggle with on a regular basis. Having consulted several colleagues, mentors, administrators, and fellow graduate students, I have come to the conclusion that there is no easy answer to this tedious yet ever important question. While there are many inlets and outlets to this dilemma, for the sake of time I will touch on only three. While all three are very different in terms of concepts, rituals, and conducts, they all come together to one common goal - helping students express themselves in terms of writing.

Subjectivity

While assessment can give students, parents, and administrators a view of where a student stands in terms of achievement, one must always remember that the grade is subjective. There is no right or wrong answer in English, as there is in math or other quantitative areas of study. The basis of “a grade” depends upon a student’s ability to choose a course of thought and convey it accurately and convincingly in written form. The subjectivity falls in how the teacher interprets or responds to the ideas and supporting information. For example, during my first venture as a student teacher, I was given the task of grading “free choice” essays. The students were given free range of the subject matter, and were told to write an insightful and poignant essay on the topic of their choice. After grading the papers, my mentor sat with me and we discussed some of the grades I had given for several of the students’ papers. Upon glancing briefly at the comments I had made and the grades I had given, my mentor began asking direct questions as to why I would grade certain papers one way, but would assign a different grade to others that were quite similar. As she went on to read through other papers, she would agree with some of my grades, but strongly disagree with others. I found this interesting because, while we were both reading the same essays, we were focusing on different points or concepts, which shaded our perception of the piece as a whole.

In retrospect, I believe that afternoon spent rereading essays with my mentor was one of the best teaching practices that I have come across. Once in a while, teachers needed to refocus their grading instincts by, in effect, orally defending their stance on grading policies.
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