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EssayTagger is a web-based tool to help teachers grade essays faster.
But it is not an auto-grader.

This blog will cover EssayTagger's latest feature updates as well as musings on
education, policy, innovation, and preserving teachers' sanity.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Latest update: Six-level rubric support

Thanks to teacher feedback, EssayTagger rubrics can now have up to six possible quality levels.

I had previously limited rubrics to a max of five quality levels mostly due to practical constraints; there just wasn't enough left-to-right space in the grading app to comfortably accomodate six quality levels. But after a series of recent cosmetic updates, the grading app now has plenty of breathing room.

Then: Law of diminishing returns
But I was still skeptical. I knew that six-level rubrics were popular, but I never used six-level rubrics in my classroom. For me, anything beyond five levels started to get overwhelming. How could I possibly remain consistent in evaluating ever-finer levels of distinction?

I really like the idea of odd-numbered, five-level rubrics and that has strongly biased my approach in designing and building EssayTagger. In my view the middle quality level is the "in-progress" quality level. The student isn't there yet but is headed in the right direction. It's neither good nor bad; the kid is simply in the middle of the process of mastering the skill. This is how I view my gymnasts as we're developing a new trick. I'm not looking for perfection at the early or middle stages.

And now that I think about it, a neutral middle rubric level is really best suited to formative assessment.

Now: Teacher feedback rules the day
What finally swayed me was a conversation I had with Dr. Richard Jones from Maine South High School. He pointed out that a lot of teachers and schools already have six-level rubrics deeply embedded into their curriculum. By not supporting six-level rubrics in EssayTagger, I was essentially shutting the door to those teachers.

But what I found most compelling was when Dr. Jones argued that it can be important to give students in the middle an indication of whether they're leaning more towards the success end of the spectrum or more toward the developing end. He also pointed out that research into rubric design has generally favored even-numbered rubric levels to force teachers into the higher-or-lower determinations.

An even-numbered rubric seems best suited for summative assessment as it is inherently more evaluative.

Give teachers the option
EssayTagger is, of course, deeply imbued with my personal preferences and my approach to assessment. But I have also put in a lot of effort to support as wide an array of approaches as possible. This system has to be able to work for everyone, not just the folks that think like me.

So keep the feedback coming; that's how EssayTagger has evolved by leaps and bounds in such a short amount of time.