First-Year Writing Portfolio Grading FAQ

Questions you might have:

1. Why is a group of professors teachers reading my papers and determining my portfolio grade rather than just my own teacher?

A group of four or five instructors (including your professor) has been reading samples of your class's writing throughout the semester to discuss and agree about what is an A, B, C, D, and F paper. The goal of the instructors in the group is to set fair and accurate grading standards. The standards will develop after discussing samples from your class and other classes throughout the semester. This agreement between two Writing professors will constitute the bulk of your grade.

2. Does my professor have any say as to what grade I get on my portfolio?

Yes. Your instructor will always be one of at least two portfolio readers of your work at the end of the term. If the second reader in the group agrees with the first reader about the grade for your portfolio, then that agreement will determine the grade you receive on the portfolio. If the second reader does not agree with your professor, then a third reader will be asked to read your portfolio. If the third reader agrees with your instructor, then the grade stands. If the third reader agrees with the second reader, then your grade is based on the agreement of readers two and three. The goal is to arrive at a "community" grade rather than a grade based solely on one teacher's preferences.

3. What happens if one person in the portfolio group grades much harder than the others? Doesn't this mean I'll probably get a low grade if that person reads my portfolio?

No, not necessarily. If the second reader does not agree with your professor, a third reader is asked to read your portfolio and decide which of the first two readers is closest to the standards that the portfolio group has agreed about during the semester. (See question #2)

4. I think each professor should grade his/her/their own students' work.

Each instructor does have a hand in grading their students' work, but the portfolio groups assure students that their grades are a reflection of community standards--departmental and university.

5. How can the portfolio group grade my papers if they haven't seen the assignment?

First-year writing courses are designed to give you practice and instruction in the various kinds of writing that you will be asked to do throughout college. The portfolio group therefore wants to be general in their assessment of your writing. They want to look at three samples of your writing and describe the group of three as "excellent," "good," "average," or "below average or failing." The ideal is that this grade reflects what most professors would say if they picked up your portfolio and read it. We want your grade to be based on the general quality of your writing alone, not on how well the writing satisfies instructor-specific instructions.

6. My professor said that I have to type single space, have fewer than two sentence fragments, and underline the thesis statement in every essay just to get a C. If the portfolio group doesn't know this, then what happens?

Instructors often have "minimum requirements" that they want every paper to meet. For example, some say that a paper can't be handed in more than one day late. When professors have such requirements that may not be the same as other instructors in the portfolio group, they will enforce those requirements by making sure you meet them before you submit a portfolio to the portfolio group at the end of the term. This way, everyone who reads your portfolio will assume it has met any instructor-specific minimum requirements. If you don't meet minimum requirements that your instructor sets, your instructor won't allow you to submit a portfolio at the end of the term.

7. I like to have grades during the semester so that I know how well I am doing. I don't want my grade at the end of the term to come as a big surprise.

We agree. Your teacher should be reading your writing throughout the semester and responding to it with comments, personal conferences, endnotes, and suggestions for revision. First-year writing courses have consultants from the Writing Center who work with you and point out strengths and weakness in your writing. And many professors will have you read and comment on other students' work. For most students, a grade is not necessary for early drafts because the proper focus is on what the paper could be, not on what it is. But if you want a grade on an assignment and your instructors has not given one, just ask. Your professor will be able to tell you where they believe the paper falls within the range of A to F, and they will probably tell you what the portfolio group have been saying about writing like yours. Don't be surprised if the instructor says, for example, that some in the group might say C and others in the group, might say B. Group members often disagree, especially early in the semester, about what is an A, B, and C. If the instructor says your paper is probably a low B or a C, your next question should be: "what could I work on in this paper that would improve it?" Your instructor should love this question and this should give you the feedback you need to feel encouraged to try and make even a good paper better.

8. It seems to me that the portfolio-grading system is all about judging final products. I thought we were supposed to be interested in the writing process?

At GVSU we use portfolios as "grading groups" to respond to the need to develop community standards and to respond to the University's desire for a "check" on how well students can write before they move on to the upper-level courses. One aim of the portfolio system is to protect students from being misled by "easy" graders and being treated unfairly by "hard" graders. Nevertheless, our first-year writing program is designed to teach you strategies and skills that will help you develop your own writing process. In fact, because the portfolio group grading system focuses on what you can do at the end of the semester as represented by your portfolio, it encourages and gives opportunity for every assignment to be revised. Revision is the heart of the writing process.

9. The portfolio group read my paper but didn't give me feedback. Why not?

The portfolio groups are only concerned with grading. Your instructor is part of your portfolio group and his or her feedback on your paper should be counted as feedback from the portfolio group. Your professor is helping to set standards in your portfolio group, so listen up when she comments on your papers. It is your instructor's job to give feedback and help on your writing. If you aren't getting it, ask again. Also, don't overlook the value of getting help from the writing consultant and the other students in your class.

10. What is supposed to be in my portfolio?

Every student should submit three papers, including at least one with citations and references. Ask your professor if you are not sure. Your professor and the other students should help you make good choices about what goes in the final portfolio.

11. Can I include a paper in my portfolio from another class?

You should not plan to include an essay written in another class in your final portfolio unless you receive permission from the instructors of both classes and make arrangements with your writing instructor about what you can use and how you can use it. Without earlier arrangements like that, all papers in your portfolio must have been assigned and seen by your instructor, and they must be originally created for the class you are taking. Students who submit work from another class (even an earlier first-year writing class) without discussing this with their professors first violate the Student Code's provision on academic honesty and integrity, a very serious matter. As a result, students may be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict resolution.

The only exception to this rule would be for students in WRT 130; if you are a WRT 130 student, is is perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) for you to include a paper you began in WRT 120 in the final portfolio that you submit in WRT 130. If you do submit work in your portfolio that you began in WRT 120, you should expect to make significant revisions to the essay before turning it in.