A Criterion for Evaluating Papers and Essays
Perhaps the most difficult task for the educator is to evaluate a student's writing. An important reason for this difficulty is the educator's concern that the evaluation process is too subjective; that is, the "correctness" of a paper is perceived by the student as only the educator's unsupported opinion. This concern usually is the product of habitually seeing education as a process of right or wrong answers, whether this perception is viewed by the educator or by the student. While objective tests can examine the student's comprehension about facts and figures, written papers about divergent knowledge offer a challenge, because the student's paper cannot be evaluated by the same criterion as a true-false test about knowledge that is convergent.The Evaluator's Checklist
For this reason, writing is given little priority by educational technocrats, who emphasize processes rather than rhetoric. Objective tests are satisfactory to determine whether a student has minimal knowledge required by the techocrats, and the student's standing can be readily determined by the grading scale. Students are technically and socially trained in order to "fit in American society." However, to employ rhetoric means having to evaluate differences in ideas, which is becoming more politically unacceptable in the schools, because differences create friction. In order to get a job, a student does not have to struggle with words or with ideas.
An objective scale is impossible for evaluating writing. In reality, like the mythological "average student," there is no such thing as an average paper. The reason is because papers deal with ideas, not with answers. Ideas cannot be viewed in terms of being average or above-average, but only as being clear and logical, or unclear and illogical. Ideas may express truth or error, but never are these ideas "average." Therefore, the evaluation of papers centers on whether the student successfully expresses his ideas in a clear and compelling way. While important to proper communication, grammar is not the emphasis when evaluating the student's work. Only after the educator has considered the presentation of the message are concerns about spelling, grammar, and mechanics addressed. However, since the technocratic establishment is hooked on GPAs, the educator must assign some letter grade in order to appease the misguided makers of policy.
The F paper should be rare. Every student is not so completely devoid of ideas that he cannot organize or discuss a topic. If the student fails, the reason will be his failure to acquire a working knowledge of grammar, and not because the student lacks ideas. The only real question for the evaluator will be to determine the difference between the A, the B, and the C paper. Typically, the difference between mediocre writing and uncommon writing is that the better writer uses transitions between
thoughts and uses specific support in the form of examples, illustrations, and anecdotes. The common writer uses language that a politician uses--trite phrases, vague generalities, and noncommittal hedging. The difference between the A and B paper is that the writer of the A paper has written a nearly flawless product.
1. While not necessary, you should consider reading the essay aloud to the student. If the reading reveals weaknesses in logic and grammar, have the student revise the paper before any further evaluation. As you read the paper, the student himself will discover his own errors or lack of logic.
2. The second reading is to find failure in communication.
- Is there a weak thesis or, even worse, no thesis?
- Do the topic sentences fail to prove the thesis?
- Is the support just vague generalizations and not specific?
- Are pronouns used for subjects or objects?
- Are vague nouns used such as "person," "thing," "society," and "event"?
3. Use a check mark to indicate lines that have grammatical or spelling errors. The student is now required to discover his own errors without the educator's "correcting" them for him.
4. You should always create a short paragraph that will serve as the end note.
- Explain what the student is doing right.
- Tell the student what you would liked to have known more about in his paper, but that he failed to say.
- Find one--two at the most--concepts that the student needs to do for the rewrite or next essay.
5. Assign a letter grade. The following criteria are used by colleges when assigning a grade to the paper. Papers are evaluated for content and organization, as well as for grammar and mechanics. Most college professors assign a failure to any paper with three major errors in grammar. Some colleges are even stricter regarding grammar.
- End with an encouraging note. Tell the student how pleased you are that he has progressed, how you enjoyed reading this particular essay, or some other appropriate remark. The evaluation ends on a positive note.
6. Miscellaneous considerations
- Papers should be double-spaced, even when the student writes by hand. The space between the lines allows you to place your comments near the student's idea that needs attention.
- Always have the student rewrite the paper. Students need to learn that the first written product is always a rough draft.
The A essay:
- has a strong central idea (thesis) that is related to the assignment;
- has a clear, logical organization with well developed major points that are supported with concrete and specific evidence;
- uses effective transitions between ideas;
- uses appropriate words composing sophisticated sentences;
- expresses ideas freshly and vividly;
- and is free of mechanical, grammatical, and spelling errors.
The B essay:
has a strong central idea that is related to the assignment;
has a clear, logical organization with developed major points, but the supporting evidence may not be especially vivid or thoughtful;
uses appropriate words accurately, but seldom exhibits an admirable style while the sentences tend to be less sophisticated;
and has few mechanical, grammatical, and spelling errors that do not distract from the overall message.
The C essay:
has a central idea that is presented in such a way that the reader understands the writer's purpose;
has an organization that reveals a plan, but the evidence tends to be general rather than specific or concrete;
uses common words accurately, but sentences tend to be simplistic and unsophisticated;
and one or two severe mechanical or grammatical errors.
The F essay will exhibit one or more of the following problems:
- lacks a central idea (no thesis);
- lacks clear organization;
- is not related to the assignment;
- fails to develop main points, or develops them in a repetitious or illogical way;
- fails to use common words accurately;
- uses a limited vocabulary in that chosen words fail to serve the writer's purpose;
- or has three or more mechanical or grammatical errors.
Major errors in grammar: The following are considered major errors in grammar.
- Comma slice, or fused sentence
- Subject-verb agreement
- Pronoun-antecedent agreement or pronoun reference