Writing Courses Pilot New Grading System


Some instructors from Pace University's English department have decided to test out a new kind of grading system in their writing classes.

Stefano Ausenda, Contributing Editor

During one of the staff writing workshops that Pace University’s Pleasantville campus held over the summer intersession, the staff within the university’s English department constructed a 13-page contract for some students enrolled in the department’s core writing courses. The contract explained a new kind of grading system, called labor-based grading.

According to the contract, in this new system, higher grades will be based on the amount of effort put forth by students, not by how closely they followed a rubric made by the professor, as was the case for a lot of the Pace writing classes before. For example, if the professor believes that a student worked on a particular essay for four hours, they’ll receive a higher grade than a student whom they believed worked on the same one for just two hours.

Even though the contract was constructed by all the professors of writing courses within the English department, only some of them decided to actually implement it into their classes, so the new grading system is acting as a kind of pilot this semester.

One of the professors who decided to try it out is Robert Mundy, who said that one of the main reasons for trying out this new grading system was to begin to develop a sense of uniformity across writing classes.

“Writing classes, students feel, are very ambiguous in terms of grading,” Mundy said, “and [this new system] provides students with something more concrete and complete in terms of what the professors are looking for.”

Since this is a pilot run, the department is open to hear any and all feedback from students and staff on how they think the new system is working out. And they’ve received a lot already, despite it being only two weeks into the semester.

“[My students and I] have spent a couple of days in my classes talking [the contract] over,” Mundy explained, “and students came back with suggestions and changes that they’d like to be made in my class.”

Even though they’ve come up with plenty of suggestions for changes to the program, Mundy says that most of the feedback that he’s received from his students so far has been positive.

“For the most part, everyone seems satisfied,” Mundy explained, “because there’s no more ‘dark areas’ of the syllabus. . .. [the contract]  is a living document that grows with us as a class.”

The contract states, among many other things, that professors “act as facilitators to your success in accomplishing the requirements of the course, not disciplinarians upholding their own assessments and agendas.” And according to Mundy, that’s how his students are starting to view him thanks to the new system. They see him as less like someone who tells them what they should and should not write, and more like someone who’s there to help them fulfill the goals of the course and become better writers.

“They begin to realize that I’m not there to decide who’s good from who’s bad, or who’s great from who’s struggling,” he said. “I’m there to just tick the boxes. [The new system],” he added, “takes me away from being the focal point and the director and makes me become more of a participant in the class.”

The department plans to present this grading system at the SUNY Council on Writing Conference in October. If the department officially adopts this grading system, it won’t only be applied to all the writing courses within the English department, but to all the writing courses on the Pleasantville campus.