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6 Evaluating an Academic Essay for Credit Contents: • Understanding the criteria used to evaluate academic essays • Holistic grading and criterion-based assessment • Using a grading rubric Key Terms: • Holistic grading • Criterion-based assessment • Rubric Figures: • Figure 6.1: Marking guide • Figure 6.2: Assessment form This chapter aims to provide you with a sense of how academic essays might be graded if they are written for credit. Those who are writing for other reasons, such as for a journal or trade publication , should not skip this chapter, because the criteria that editors and professional assessors use to determine whether an essay is suitable are similar to those typically used in the classroom. These criteria should also be helpful to those who are asked to critique the work of their peers less formally.* 101 * Unless you are told differently, if colleagues ask you to review their work, make sure to respond to the following three questions: (1) Is the thesis clear? (2) Is the paper written and argued appropriately considering the intended audience? (3) Has the author dealt with alternative viewpoints effectively?Your feedback should include what is good about the paper as well as what might be improved. If you call for specific changes, you should be explicit and detailed. 06-Military:06-Military 24/10/09 10:34 Page 101 There are two general approaches to grading essays. We will deal with both of them. I. Holistic Grading Holistic grading is what it sounds like. The assessor reads your essay, maybe once, perhaps more than once, and provides a final grade—be it pass/fail, a letter, or a percentage—at the end. Ideally, the grade is followed by detailed comments explaining both what you have achieved and how you might make improvements. Even more ideally, the grade is based on explicitly articulated criteria that you as a writer have received in advance. Students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences are probably familiar with the holistic approach, as it is still common across the university and college systems. Its greatest benefit is that it provides the marker with tremendous flexibility (which means, for example, that if a student is notably deficient in one aspect of writing—perhaps grammar—but superior in many others, the instructor can choose to de-emphasize the difficult aspect in determining a final grade). Its greatest weakness is in the perceived (and often real) subjectivity that accompanies the grade. It is more difficult to demonstrate accountability in the holistic system, and such an approach can be particularly disillusioning to military personnel , who are accustomed to being presented with clear expectations in advance. We are less than fully comfortable with holistic grading at a theoretical level, and even less encouraging of its use in the military. Nevertheless, military personnel who engage in the academic process will likely encounter holistic forms of assessment and must know how to deal with them. We advise that you assume that holistic assessors base their evaluations on the criteria that we outline in the next section. 102 Evaluating an Academic Essay for Credit 06-Military:06-Military 24/10/09 10:34 Page 102 II. Criterion-based Assessment In contrast to holistic grading, criterion-based assessment establishes a clearly defined list of criteria that form the basis against which essays are evaluated. Taken to the extreme, criterion -based assessors might use a checklist, awarding points for the completion of specific tasks (for instance, including a clear thesis statement) and deducting points for objective errors (for example, spelling mistakes). The greatest benefit in this case is the transparency involved in the process. A checklist also limits the need for a specialist to do the grading:Anyone capable of applying the tenets of an explicit marking sheet will suffice. The greatest drawback to this approach is that it limits the instructor’s flexibility . As a result, a paper that is brilliant in every way but one might receive a lower grade than one that is just average, but consistently so. Philosophically, we prefer the criterion-based approach, but we find the checklist too extreme. As a result, and based on some of the current research in the field, we promote the use of a hybrid system, which the teaching and learning community refers to as a “rubric.” III. Rubrics At the Canadian Forces College, we grade based on a system that leans heavily towards criterion-based assessment without reaching the extremes of the checklist. We include in Figure 6.1 a copy...


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