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Holistic Grading Criteria

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These evaluative criteria were developed by Dr. David Barndollar for a sophomore-level English course. The same five concerns are addressed at each grade level:

  • quality of ideas
  • development and organization
  • language and word choice
  • mechanics, and style

A Grade

Demonstrates unusual competence:

  • an ability to avoid the obvious and thus gain insights that are individual and often illuminating
  • a capacity to develop ideas flexibly and fluently, yet with control and purpose
  • a special concern for the bon mot, even if it entails coining a word that the language does not provide
  • an ability to use punctuation rhetorically, using it for effect as well as for clarity
  • a willingness to be inventive with words and structures in order to produce a clearly identifiable style, even though at times the efforts may be too deliberate or may fall short of the writer’s intentions

B Grade

Demonstrates competence:

  • an ability to absorb ideas and experience and to interpret them meaningfully in a context of the writer’s own conception
  • a capacity to develop an idea with a clear sense of order
  • a capacity to draw upon words adequate to express the writer’s own thoughts and feelings
  • an ability to use mechanics as an integral part of the meaning and effect of the prose
  • a capacity to consider alternate ways of expression as a means of making stylistic choices possible

C Grade

Suggests competence:

  • a tendency to depend on the self-evident and the clichéd and thus for the writer to write uninformative discourse
  • a tendency either to make the organization obvious or to write aimlessly without a plan
  • a limitation in the range of words and thus a dependence on the clichés and colloquialisms most available
  • an ability to use mechanics correctly or incorrectly in proportion to the plainness or complexity of the style
  • a general unawareness of choices that affect style and thus an inability to control the effects a writer may seek

D Grade

Suggests incompetence
(F: Demonstrates incompetence)

  • a tendency to exploit the obvious either because of a lack of understanding, inability to read, failure to grapple with a topic, or in many instances a lack of interest; substance of essays ranges from superficial to barren
  • a tendency to wander aimlessly because of a lack of overall conception or in some instances to have a semblance of form without the development that makes the parts a whole
  • a tendency to play safe with words, using ones the writer ordinarily speaks or the ones the writer can spell, placing obvious limits on variation of expression
  • a frequent inability to make careful distinctions between periods, commas, and semicolons, although some writers in these categories can write correct sentences if they keep structures simple
  • either a tendency to write highly convoluted sentences that are close to the rapid associations of our thoughts before we straighten them out or a tendency to play safe by avoiding the sentence elements that invite error (introductory modifiers, embedding, coordination, and various other sentence-combining techniques)