An Essay Grading Criteria for High School

[Around 1998, as part of an effort to make the evaluation of Senior Demonstration essays more consistent at Asheville School, I wrote a grading criteria that over the years evolved into the document that follows.  When we took the step of creating a Humanities Department out of the faculties of both the History and English Departments, the department revised the original criteria into something a bit closer to what appears below. I have used versions of it as the basis for my assessment of student writing ever since. Often when I created a writing assignment for my AP Literature students, I simply added a couple of sentences to each grade description in order to reflect the specific expectations of an individual assignment. When used by each member of the Humanities Department at Asheville School, we found it increased our grading consistency, and just as importantly, it provided us with a shared vocabulary to describe the relative quality of student writing.

I sent an early version of the grading criteria back to colleagues at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina where I taught for the first eight years of my career, and they adopted a very similar criteria. I believe it is still in use there ] 

An A paper exceeds the expectations for the assignment. It contains compelling strengths and rich content and is appropriately suited to a particular audience. The author states a thesis of substance and/or originality and defends it by using relevant textual evidence and/or supportive detail. The paper maintains a readable and highly organized style that never interferes with the author’s intended meaning. This paper is marked by stylistic finesse: the title and opening paragraph are engaging; the phrasing is tight, fresh, and highly specific; the sentence structure is varied. The tone suits the purpose of the paper. The paper bears evidence of careful editing and revision and contains few, if any, grammatical errors. The author creates useful and artful transitions between paragraphs and sections of the essay. This response reveals an appreciation for and grasp of the subtleties of the work(s) and topic(s) the author has studied. The author provides a well-articulated conclusion derived from the essay that precedes it. This paper, because of its careful organization and development, imparts a feeling of wholeness and unusual clarity.

A B paper meets the expectations for the assignment. This paper delivers substantial information–that is, substantial in both quantity, interest, and originality. Its specific points are logically ordered, well-developed, and unified around a clear organizing principle that is apparent early in the paper. The author states a clear thesis in an introduction that draws the reader in and defends the thesis by using relevant textual evidence and/or supportive detail. The paper exhibits an awareness of audience. The paper bears evidence of editing and revision and contains few grammatical errors. The author attempts to create transitions between paragraphs and sections of the paper. This response maintains a readable and highly organized style, which only rarely gets in the way of the author’s intended meaning. The diction of the B paper is typically more concise and precise than found in the C paper. Occasionally, it even shows distinctive style–i.e., finesse and memorability. This response reveals an appreciation for and grasp of the work(s) and topic(s) the author has studied. The author provides a well-articulated conclusion derived from the essay that precedes it.

A C paper meets the assignment’s basic expectations although it is limited in some way. The author states a thesis and attempts to defend it by use of textual evidence. The paper may not exhibit a clearly focused awareness of audience. There may be gaps in the author’s logic or in the organization of the essay as a whole. Vague generalization in the writing may prompt the reader to ask marginally: “In every case?,” “Exactly how large?,” “Why?”. These questions may also have appeared on previous drafts of the paper. Frequently these papers include stylistic difficulties such as: the absence of an introduction which draws the reader into the paper, a conclusion that is not much more than a perfunctory wrap-up, bumpy transitions between paragraphs, lack of sentence variety, lack of sufficient textual evidence and/or supportive detail, and imprecise or redundant diction. Grammatical errors may distract the reader and the paper may appear not to have been revised or edited carefully. The C paper, then, while it gets the job done, lacks polish and intellectual rigor.

A D response neglects several important expectations for the assignment. Its treatment and development of the subject are rudimentary. This response may reveal an inadequate reading of textual material. Because of a lack of careful revision and/or editing, sentences are frequently awkward, ambiguous, and marred by serious mechanical errors. This paper may contain a faulty use of documentation, paraphrase, or direct quotation. There are major gaps in the author’s thinking process and/or ability to convey and support his/her ideas. While some attempt at organization is present, it is neither clear nor effective. This paper may have all the component parts of an essay; however, there are significant problems within those component parts. This paper, in fact, often gives the impression of having been conceived and written in haste with little or no revision.

An F response fails to meet the basic expectations for the assignment. For example, the response fails to meet the minimum length requirement, reveals an incomplete reading of source material, or seems not to have been revised or edited. Its treatment of the subject is superficial; it lacks discernible organization; its prose is garbled or stylistically limited. In short, the ideas, organization, and style fall below what is acceptable for the assignment.

One thought on “An Essay Grading Criteria for High School

  1. kathleen peters May 21, 2012 / 10:01 pm

    I have used/borrowed this rubric for years in my university classes. It is a very clear guide for expectations on the front end of an assignment and as an explanation of grades when the papers are returned. My students have found it very helpful and straightforward.

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