When I was a junior in college, I did some part time work tutoring students in writing through my university’s literacy center. I was working with a ninth grade student, Allan, and he was concerned about how his writing ability was affecting his grade. As we we were getting to know one another, many of my questions focused on what his teacher expected from Allan and his classmates when it came to writing.
Me: So, your classmates are getting high marks, but you’re struggling. Does your teacher go over what he expects on your papers?
Allan: Well, he goes over the rubric and . . .
Me: Hang on. Rubric? What’s that?
Allan: It’s like, a thing… a paper my teacher gives us to tell us how we’re doing with our writing, what he expects, you know?
Me: . . .
That’s right, as a junior in college, this was the first time I was becoming aware of this measuring tool. Now, to be fair to my teachers up until that time, they were using clear assessment tools to evaluate my writing and give me feedback–I remember checklists full of writing features that my teachers would tick off as they each on in my papers, and at the end I would get a certain amount of points based on my performance. But this was the first time I had to pay attention because my student’s grade depended to what extent he could calibrate his writing to the rubric.
I helped Allan work his way to receiving top marks in his class according to the scoring guide his teacher gave the class. It was very satisfying to watch him succeed because of our collaboration, and one of the many formative experiences that lead me to pursuing a career in teaching ELA at the high school level. But, soon after I started teaching, assessing student writing according to rubrics nearly caused me to leave the profession.