Writing rubrics are familiar to most parents these days.  The rubrics are the criteria used to assess a range of writing skills for a child.

Here’s a writing rubric that was handed to me recently for David, a child who I was going to assess.  On a four scale rubric, David was given a score.  As it turns out, David’s score was the lowest level of functioning among four different criteria.

David was said to show the following in his writing:

  • No sequence; no sentences; numerous grammatical errors; no attempt to revise or edit work; no supporting details; incorrect spacing and letter formation.

On the upper end of the scoring criterion where David was not functioning was the following:

  • Clear beginning, middle, and with clear sense of closure; vary sentence length and pattern; no grammatical errors; three or more editing strategies demonstrated; consistent use of supporting details, descriptive language; clearly legible, with proper spacing; product shows great effort.

Given the two polar opposite criteria for writing rubric described to evaluate him, take a guess how old David is and his grade level?

Perhaps you might be thinking David is approximately a middle schooler, maybe in seventh grade.

No, David is not a seventh grader; David is a six-year-old first grader.

Here is what David wrote when I asked him to tell a story about his weekend:

It was a it was a tid baseballgame my tem hit a lot of gramslem.

                          then we had to sing happy brthbay.

Keep in mind that obtaining this sample from David was not easy, in fact it was painstaking.  Resistant to writing anything, David needed a fair amount of external prompting to produce this sample.

I understand that I am shouting into the Grand Canyon on this one, but from where I sit it is fundamentally absurd to have children assessed with standards such as the rubric above used on a child like David, when he clearly has only very rudimentary, emerging skills.

Writing paragraphs or essays with a clear beginning, middle and end with a sense of closure as noted in the above rubric is a much later skill for someone like David.  These skills are way down the road (as it is for most first graders).

Where are we getting these notions on children’s development? Putting the standard down on paper as a does not make it a reality for many children.

Just like there are people out there who try and toilet train children after their first birthday, this seems to me to be completely insensitive to the child’s level of development.  Writing full essays for first graders, especially struggling ones, is similarly insensitive.

Yet, we persist.