Strategies to Measure Student Writing Skills in Your Disciplines

Strategies to
Measure Student
Writing Skills in
Your Disciplines
Joan Hawthorne
University of North Dakota
Today’s Agenda
• Introduction and overview
• Aligning tools and goals
• Designing and using rubrics
• Break
• Adapting rubrics to programs and purposes
• Outcomes and ownership
• Conclusions and evaluations
What’s wrong with assessment?
• Imposed
• Strategies we
didn’t choose and
don’t trust
• “They don’t trust
• “What we need to
turn in.”
• Owned
• Our own methods
and our own
• “Let’s see how
students learn.”
• “What we want to
“The most important purpose
of assessment should not be
improvement or accountability
but their common aim:
everyone wants students to get
the best possible education.”
Linda Suskie
Making assessment better
• Actual student work
• Actual NIU classes
• Faculty-determined criteria
• Faculty-determined “good enough”
vs. “not so satisfying”
• Conclusions speak to our own
students’ learning
What do we want from these
assessments of written
When choosing a tool…
• What questions do you want to
• Why do you want to know that?
• Who will this information matter to?
• What kinds of information would be
interesting and useful to those
Rubric options
• Traditional rubrics
• Performance lists
• Checklists
The writing shows control of sentence
level features of written language
(grammar, spelling, punctuation, and
Sentence level features (grammar,
spelling, punctuation, and usage) are
used appropriately.
Presentation, syntax, mechanics
• Uses graceful
language that
meaning to
readers with
clarity and fluency
and is virtually
• Uses
language that
meaning to
readers with few
Benefits of using rubrics
• They help faculty articulate what they
mean and want to see.
• They help students know what to aim for.
• They focus assessment activities on
student work products and student
• They focus assessment on faculty
• They link outcomes across levels.
Principles of rubric use
• Don’t reinvent the wheel.
• Involve the people who’ll use it.
• Involve the people who’ll get their
work scored.
• Don’t wait for the perfect wording.
• And then start tweaking….
Using rubrics in your classes
• Assume the rubric will provide grading
information as well as assessment
• Identify criteria first.
• Know what questions you want to be able
to answer.
• Use principles of backwards course design.
• Engage students with rubric criteria.
Using rubrics at the program level
• Link writing goals/criteria with program
• Identify specific concerns to be addressed.
• Identify questions to be answered.
• Consider means of engaging your
• Consider availability of student work
Program level – continued
• Reach agreements regarding “traceability.”
• Consider how methodology decisions will
impact participation.
• Identify range of goals addressed by the
work products.
• Plan analysis
• Descriptive vs. statistical
• Course level vs. program level
Using rubrics at the institutional level
• Identify information needs for the GE
• Plan faculty ownership and engagement.
• Find a source of papers likely to yield
useful campus-wide information.
• Build on current rubric and current data.
• Plan student participation and
Institutional level -- continued
• Involve faculty in data analysis and
• Involve students in consideration of data.
• Identify opportunities to feed information
into campus-wide discussions.
• Consider accreditation needs.
• Remember: a key element of rubric use is
that faculty judgment is central.
YOUR TASK: Form table groups or
pairs. Agree on a context (i.e.,
course, program, institution level).
Begin planning adaptations to the
NIU communication rubric to make
it usable for your questions and
purposes. Be ready to tell us about
what changes you made and why.
Issues to be resolved…
• How much of the rubric is relevant to our
• What’s not in the rubric that we need?
• How do we adapt for first year vs. graduating?
• How much of an issue is language which doesn’t
“feel right” in another context?
• In your context, are the additional goals which
would need to be “counted” or scored, maybe at
the same time as the rubric is applied?
“Assessment, one might say,
must live where faculty live, in
the classrooms where they
teach the field they love.”
Pat Hutchings

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