Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Basic Grading Rubric for Papers, Undergraduate and Graduate.

What's most important is to go through papers with students, in person, showing them how to make the work stronger. Grades may preoccupy them, but getting stronger should be your focus.

0.       Plagiarism: Is there any violation of academic integrity? If so, send to university committee. Usually obvious to reader, but sometimes confirmed or indicated by Turnitin. Not only unquoted but copied passages, but also features of the argument that are taken from elsewhere. Often harder to detect.

1.       Organization: Is the paper well structured? Clear summary at beginning, divided into sensible parts, each part starts with a topic paragraph.

2.       Scholarship: Is the scholarship reliable? Are the sources sufficiently wide-ranging. Are opposing positions and problems dealt with? Are historical accounts sensitive to the back and forth of “progress”? Is the description of cases and examples likely to be reliable? Are there serious lacunae?

3.       Rhetoric: Is the rhetoric fair. Are you fair to your opponents?

4.       Readability: Does the paper scan? Problems with language and spelling and grammar. Can I read the paper without having to parse sentences? Are spelling errors rare or understood as mistakes?

5.       Thinking: Does the level of thinking and research reflect the demands of this stage in one’s academic career?

6.       Topic: Can I figure out what the paper is about? Does the paper fulfil the assignment?

7.       Excellence: Would I be proud to show this work to a colleague? In general, potentially excellent papers have no #0-6 problems.

In general, a student will ask to have their grade changed because they feel the work is stronger than recognized by their grade. (It is helpful to prepare a memo pointing out the strengths of the paper, in light of the above rubric.) In order to avoid moral hazard, as the economists call it, there is a possibility that a rereading of a paper will result in a lower grade. (Otherwise, if rereadings could result only in an unchanged or an improved grade, the incentive system would not encourage students to carefully think about the problems in their papers.) 

On the other hand, students might feel that the professor could retaliate against them for even asking for a grade change. Hence it is crucial that there be oversight by the department or school. In the background is the fact that in a university, the professors are rationally presumed to have authority and integrity--although this is open to question. The professor can be challenged. But the professor's authoritative judgment is what the student is seeking.  This is very different than most challenges to authority, because often those challenges are meant to negate authority.