Archive for October 27, 2008

Calibrating our Scores in Coordinated Writing Courses

Our Academic Reading and Writing teachers had a very good rubric to score each others’ students writing by during “Reading Week” what should be REALLY considered our mid-semester break. “Break,” meaning a rest from the usual grind.  I suppose everyone has their own definition of what a “break” constitutes.  It would seem that something fell apart in the implementation of calibrating our scores when we put our students’ discursive essays all together to divide out amongst the nine of us teachers. Turns out there were five of us for Stage One of our experiment of politely working together.


Keep in mind that we are all professionals with busy lives of our own, therefore, we did NOT want to spend hours quibbling over the finer points of how to grade our students on three different types of questions.  Seems that my students had the more complex question to answer about the destruction of the Aral Sea, the others were straightforward, something like:  “Discuss if the Aral Sea should be revived or let it die?” or “What is more likely, was the Aral Sea destroyed by man-made factors or natural causes?”  In some cases, upon getting the results back for my students’ essays, I had high scorers give their feedback to my students mid-term exams. I know the student, I would have graded lower.

Unfortunately, other scorers just did the easy way out and did the copy-cat rating of the first rater’s score.  We were ideally supposed to have two raters score the same essay twice.  I rated over 50 essays when all was said and done.  I only have about 30 students.


After nine weeks of working with my students, I know their abilities and strengths.  I also know the ones who don’t show up for class and are lazy.  Most of those have already been withdrawn from my class or curtsied out on their own.  Those who have remained on my class roll have faithfully done their reading and writing homework assignments which amounts to 30% of their grade plus three vocabulary quizzes on the textbook units.  The mid-term exam has 20% of the weight, according to our syllabus. 


Here is the start of the inequities I observed in this erratic scoring.  In one case, a student of mine who was averaging 23% in his assignments and quizzes got 75% for his mid-term essay grade. He is retaking the course, so perhaps he knows how to take tests and doesn’t want to be bothered with going to my class.  However, two other girls, who are very consistent, hard workers with an average of 83% and 88%, were rated the same 55% for their mid-term exam.  Another student who has the abilities but doesn’t show it in his scores got 90% on his midterm but is averaging 60% in my class!  What gives!!!


I am VERY discouraged with our cross-checking amongst my teaching colleagues of mid-term essays between raters from very divergent teaching backgrounds. I am used to having weekly meetings when I taught ITAs at the University of Minnesota and we concertedly worked together to be on the same page. We necessarily had to calibrate our scores all the time. It is quite depressing that I’ll have to ask a third rater to analyze the work my students did. 

As it stands, I can NOT give back the essays or their midterm grades tomorrow in class, it will have to wait until Thursday.  That goes for about half of my students. I have been watching my students’ progress over these past nine weeks, some have made major improvements. I am very proud of most of them. It does not speak well for me as their teacher to have so many with failing midterm grades.  So the question remains, am I in the way of my students’ learning?  I certainly hope not.


A 50 minute sampling hardly shows the abilities of students’ hard work in writing over the course of nine weeks.  Over the course of the semester, the ONE and ONLY semester these students will get in academic writing, it takes writes and re-writes to do this kind of skill justice.  Of course, I enjoy those eager students who really, really want to improve their writing too.  I am not interested in haphazard students.  Also, I’m not concerned about grammar but content and passion to get the main point across.  That is what I try to inculcate into my students. (sigh) Well, we WILL prevail with our final and second essay of the semester called a Problem and Solution essay.  Seems we have a classic problem with how we teach this writing course.  I am open to suggestions on how to solve the problem of getting our students to write plagiarism-free essays that are interesting for the teachers to read and grade.


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