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School marks for written tasks

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Test results are not everything
Dan Blore is Manager and Educator at Extended Learning Centres, Mooloolaba

If you notice that your secondary students are given marks for English or other written assessments which seem below the standard of work submitted, we recommend that you make a point of politely contacting your school for some objective feedback on why.

Without your enquiries, schools have less impetus to look into those teachers who may not be marking consistently objectively.

Also worth remembering: What is the point of assessment?

Marking should be objective

Each genre students are asked to produce has a set of conventions and techniques that need to be followed and used effectively.

Leading up to assessment, teachers should have:

  1. presented these conventions and techniques in class
  2. pointed them out in exemplary texts,
  3. had students understand and practice them,
  4. explained the marking criteria (which are included with assessment task sheet).

Once students start producing their assessment piece, teachers should then give appropriate feedback on students’ drafts so that students know which aspects need to be improved to earn the best marks.

Upon completion, if a student has followed the conventions and used the techniques effectively to address the task, then they should have earned a high mark.

When marks are subjective instead

We see instances when the above is not the case. –Not all English teachers! Just some, sometimes…

We see some teachers tend to mark by student reputation rather than marking each piece on its merits. This is not fair, but it is one reason students need to pay attention to the reputation they build for themselves in lower years, or even with other teachers. Teachers talk! Even having turned over a new leaf, a bad rep can be hard to shake. (Talk to us if this is the case – we need a strategy meeting.)

Some teachers are too subjective, and mark based on whether the piece appeals to them personally, rather than sticking to the marking rubric. Others tell students that their draft is all good, giving very little feedback and the impression that their piece is up to standard, but then lump the student with an unexpected ‘C’.

We’ve seen a student follow their teacher’s instruction to incorporate specific points into their essay, only for the teacher to cross them out in the next draft without explanation. Had they forgotten it was their suggestion? How can the student have much idea what mark to expect with such fickle feedback?

Avoiding subjective marking

All of this speaks to part of the reason we encourage some students to avoid subjects prone to subjective assessment (history, art, drama, etc), despite their inherent value as areas of study. To be more confident that quality work will receive high grades, we often recommend students make sure that they excel in and stick to the maths/science subjects. Marking here tends to leave less room for teachers’ personal opinions.

English is a compulsory subject, unlike the other humanities. So not only important, but unavoidable. And it is only fair that students receive equal grades for equivalent work, marked objectively. Schools do have cross-marking checks and in-service training to keep teachers aware of the standards and practices for marking. But when your child seems to have been marked unfairly, please do take the time to let your school know that YOU are paying attention.

Not all poor marks are biased. Some are quite deserved. But when marks are unfair, someone needs to be tapped on the shoulder.

And while I have you…

Help your child improve their written work with these four points that we just can’t stress enough to students:

  • Students must use essay and paragraph structures. PEEL, TEEL and TEXAS are the most common paragraph structures in Sunshine Coast schools. They should be introduced in primary school. And they stay the same through to university. Not only will they lose marks without it, but they make for higher quality essays – more quickly and more easily.
  • Students should be in the habit of finishing their whole piece for draft check. Even the best teachers can’t give feedback on the quality of what hasn’t yet been written. The time after draft check is for revising and polishing.
  • Students must check their spelling, grammar and coherence before the teacher sees the draft. If work is hard to read, it’s harder for teachers to give substantive feedback. Plus, it’s respectful! Teachers are aware of, but not immune to, the fact that, as humans, it is natural to develop subconscious negativity towards students whose work is hard to read.
  • Students should find out what the coming assessment will be at the start of each unit. As they learn the unit content, they should be picturing how they will use the knowledge in their coming assessment.

Help us help your child by reiterating these points at home.


Talk to us about extending your child’s maths learning in formative years (grade 2 to year 9) so they have the best chance of studying the more technical maths and science subjects.


 

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About the Author: Dan Blore
Dan Blore manages and teaches at Extended Learning Centres. He has spent 11 years’ in education after studying secondary education at University of the Sunshine Coast. He has taught in Australia and Germany and studied at university in Italy. He most enjoys teaching and studying mathematics and languages, which he focused on at university.

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