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Scoring On-Demand Assessments

I recently scored on-demand narrative writing assessments for a school’s worth of kids, K-8.  In the past, I always designed, administered, and assessed my former students’ on-demand writing samples myself.  Since the Units of Study books contain on-demand writing assessments for opinion, information, and narrative writing, I opted to use the assessment contained in Writing Pathways Grades K-5: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions by Lucy Calkins (Heinemann, 2013).  While it was similar to narrative on-demand writing assessments I have given in the past, the idea of using this learning progression to norm students writing was new to me.  (I remember working, way back in 2006, with the Narrative Writing Continuum, which the TCRWP was creating when I was in grad school. However, I never held up a student’s writing and said it appeared to be on a fourth grade level, fifth grade level, etc.  It was always just me saying something like, “They seem like a skilled writer.”)

Annie Taranto spent time teaching us a bit about the new on-demand performance assessments in her staff development session at the Summer Writing Institute. However, nothing truly teaches you like rolling up your sleeves and grading assessments by yourself.  As a result, I came away with five realizations from using the narrative on-demand assessment in Calkins’ book.

  • Keep papers anonymous.
    • Whether you’re scoring your students’ writing or the writing from the teacher down the hall, code students’ papers rather than having their names on top of them.  This minimizes the chance of bias for you in the beginning of the school year or for other teachers (who recognize your students’ names, but not their handwriting) later in the year.
    • Do this work alongside at least one other teacher.
      • I did this work by myself.  While this was efficient in terms of scheduling, I wish I could’ve scored the writing alongside one other person.  There were several occasions when I wasn’t sure if a student demonstrated third grade or fourth grade level writing.  If I had another person working alongside of me, I could’ve had a conversation about why the writing was more like a third grade level than a fourth grade level.  As a result, I spent a lot of time re-reading the learning progression and the writing samples contained in the Writing Pathways book.  (So much for working alone as a time saver!)
      • Let the leveled student writing samples be your friend.
        • Whenever I was unsure the grade level a student’s writing level was mostly like, I reread the grade level writing samples contained in Writing Pathways.  There are two student writing samples for grades K – 6 (with Kindergarten having four samples: two early Kindergarten and two later the year samples).  These were helpful since the samples allowed me to discover what grade level the student’s work in my hand was most like when the learning progression alone wasn’t enough to help me.
        • The words “I think this student looks most like (a grade ___), because…” are helpful when you’re still unsure.
          • Annie advised the use of the phrase, “I think this student looks most like (a grade ___), because…,” if we were unsure about what grade level a student’s writing was most like.  I found myself saying this phrase aloud to rationalize my thinking, often referencing points from the learning progression.  For instance, “I think this student looks most like a grade level four two because his structure and development were mostly on this level. Even though his language conventions are that of a fourth grade student, the structure, organization, focus, and elaboration of the writing seem more like a second grade student.”  This phrase is one I can also imagine using when I meet with the school administration to help me justify why I “rated” a student a particular level.
          • Use the information you glean to drive instruction.
            • On-demand levels are not grades, ratings, or scores.  They’re meant to help teachers figure out where students are in terms of the learning progression so they can be taught the skills they need to grow as writers.  If you’re looking to set goals for students, to use during strategic writing conferences, a lot of information can be derived by looking at how students performed on their on-demand assessments.

What have you learned about your young writers by administering and scoring on-demand writing assessments?  Please share by leaving a comment.

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

11 thoughts on “Scoring On-Demand Assessments Leave a comment

  1. As an instructional coach I am concerned about the time it takes to score our on-demand assessments, too. At my middle school, Language Arts teachers have 120-150 students to assess and we are being asked to administer the on-demand informational writing prompt 3 times this year. I am concerned that time spent scoring the assessments takes away too much time from our planning for & implementing instruction. My secondary concern is that the assessment is to inform our instruction, but we do not instruct for informational writing all year long – we will be assessing twice before even launching the unit. I’m wondering if there are other middle school teachers administering the on-demand writing assessments with similar concerns and how you are addressing them.

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  2. Hi Stacey, This is our first year implementing writers workshop and the new units. Recently our students took the on-demand narrative writing assessments. Scoring the assessments is taking the teachers a lot of time. Teachers have from 25-30 students in their class. How much time should it take? Do you have any suggestions on how I can support them? Thanks!

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  3. How timely, not to mention helpful, this post was as 2 hours of our Staff Development Day yesterday were spent scoring on-demands. All of these suggestions are good, and I will use them all as I finish scoring my students’s narratives. Will also share this not only with my grade-level team but the entire teaching staff. Thanks Stacey!

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  4. Just working through my narrative on demands. While it isn’t perfect, the checklist from TCRWP has made a huge improvement in our understanding of next teaching steps. I did the first round with a colleague, the second alone. Now wish I had done this with her. Time constraints/schedules make this a challenge that we need to overcome. Thank you for this post.

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  5. Stacey – I’m spending my whole day on Wednesday sitting with our junior high team as they score the DRA2 assessment. I’ve been questioning this decision all weekend, thinking about how many other things are pulling at my time at work. Reading your post reminded me that it’s so important for me to be there. They do need me there for the conversation.

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  6. I love the phrase you were using. I may try that. It can be easy to get into a groove when you are grading and miss something important. Holding yourself accountable by asking, “What grade level does this look like?” or putting it as you did are great ways to keep on track.

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  7. This was very helpful for me. I ‘m glad to know I am on the right track with my kiddos. I found the checklists in Writing Pathways very helpful to use along side the writer during a conference. I am planning on using them over several units of narrative writing to show them their growth and set goals for their futures.

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    • I loved showing my students the difference in their on-demand writing from the beginning of the year to the end of the school year. It always amazed them and allowed them to see just how much they grew as writers.

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  8. I second Anna’s thoughts about evaluating with someone. We tend to work independently in our school – and I’ve been working to change this for precisely the reasons that you and Anna mention. That last point is so important, too – use the information you glean to drive instruction.
    My best instruction sometimes comes from what I learn during assessment. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Stacey.

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  9. Thanks for making that point, Anna. I think using it to inform teaching/next steps is exactly what these should be used for. When I used to do on-demand assessments in my own classroom, they used to reveal the holes in my teaching, which really helped me do a better job of planning minilessons, strategy lessons, and conferences.

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  10. I couldn’t agree more with these tips. Scoring alongside at least one other teacher is huge. I find that the conversations held while scoring are often the most valuable part of the entire process. The learning progressions and rubrics in the new units of study are certainly very helpful tools. But like all tools, it is what the user brings to them that makes them effective. Not every teacher will interpret every piece of writing the same way. It is important to mine disagreement as a way to learn more about the teaching of writing.
    I also wanted to say how important it’s been to me to shift away from final scores and keep my focus on using the assessments as a way to inform instruction. I use a simple T-chart for each category (structure, development, language) with the categories “What the writer is doing well” and “What I might teach” to record compliments and next steps for students.

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