My mentor and I are discussing if we should grade science notebooks, lab reports, and assessments for correct usage, punctuation, and spelling. Or should we ignore these errors and just grade for content? —G., Maryland
My contribution to your discussion would fall toward the content end of the continuum. It’s important to assess students’ content knowledge, the appropriateness of their conclusions, their use of evidence to support a claim, how they apply their knowledge to situations, and how clearly they organize data. But students’ written work can be hard to assess if it is riddled with spelling errors or uses sentence structure that is hard to follow. The rubric should reflect the students’ age, experience level, and facility with the English language. For example, expectations and requirements for high school seniors should be at a higher level than those for younger students.
It’s interesting to follow up with students. We often find that students, including those with special needs or who are English language learners, can communicate orally but struggle to write their thoughts in an understandable form. In these cases, if the student can explain their thoughts orally and/or with drawings, I would use that explanation to assess their learning.
But it’s also important for students to write for a variety of purposes and for their writing to be appropriate for its purpose. A museum zoologist I interviewed said that a good portion of his day was spent writing—notes, memos, observations, summaries, reports, journal articles, blog entries, and letters. Some of this written work was meant for his eyes only (notes, drafts, observations) while others were more summative and meant to be shared with others (reports, articles, letters). Your students’ work follows a similar pattern: writing for themselves (as in notes, reflections, exit tickets) versus writing for their peers or teachers to understand (lab reports or essays). The latter needs to be understandable to others.