Proof That Writing Rubrics in Oklahoma Are Designed to Fail Your Kids

I’ve been an English teacher for over 20 years. I know how to teach students to write essays. It is in my blood.

I can usually take any student from a mediocre writer or a poor writer to a functional writer. I have worked in districts with zero vertical team and a micromanaging vertical team.

But the State of Oklahoma (at least), a state whose government is notoriously anti-public school, is always working to make public schools seem like they are underperforming.

The proof might be in the recent state of the state where Governor Stitt stated that he would raise the cap on private school vouchers from 5 million to 30 million when public schools are drastically underfunded. The requirements in surrounding states like Kansas for receiving vouchers to send your kids to private schools is qualifying for free lunches at public school. Oklahoma has no such caps. Don’t get me started on the egregious A-F grading system as a way to keep minority schools in failure and the mindlessness of standardized testing that our country still thinks is a good measure of what students “know”.

Yesterday, however, upon examining a rubric for the 8th grade writing test I began to realize that the rubric was not only unfair but probably not written by an ELA specialist.

Take a look at two of the criteria on the rubric:

First, I have to say that I have spent years designing rubrics. As an Advanced Placement instructor I have been trained to create rubrics for any prompt. One begins with the basic skills a student must demonstrate in order to show proficiency. This is a baseline score that then is built upon. Higher scores than the baseline are added skills that show advancement and then lower scores show the skills the student is lacking.

The rubric shown above shows its “effective” score as the highest score a student can achieve. Understand that the test is given under duress, that students are writing the essay in a controlled environment, and that they usually do not have time to revise.

The passing score here (at least as I have been informed) is a 3. A student who can demonstrate a 2 on this rubric, in my humble opinion after 20 years of teaching, should be passing. A “well-developed” essay with minor errors in mechanics with “precise” word choice should be beyond what an average student can demonstrate.

The point here is that if a student does their darnedest on the essay portion they are still doomed to failure or being scored as mediocre. Here is the top portion of the rubric:

Notice the criteria for a 2. The students’ argument “productively” engaged multiple perspectives. Thesis reflects “precision” in thought and purpose. I’m lucky, from an average student, for them to demonstrate a 1 on this part of the rubric. Look at the 1 “adequate” for development and support. For this, a student must use clear reasoning and provide examples that “extend” ideas and analysis.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a layman) to see that this rubric is skewed to cause students to do poorly on the writing exam. I teach at a STEM school, a public application school where students are the best our district has to offer. I can tell you that demonstrating a score of 3 on all of these criteria will be a herculean labor.

It is proof positive that our state education system is setting our students up for failure. If this rubric is followed as written (which, in my opinion) in many ways is vague and unfair, our students are not being given a fair shake.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

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