The University of Iowa

Scoring Student Writing

Teen boy writing response on laptop

We are involved in a number of research projects comparing different ways of scoring student writing. Determining the best ways to score student writing can help inform students’ preparation for annual assessments as well as the instruction they need to improve their abilities.

Writing Scoring Studies

Comparing Approaches to Scoring Student Writing

Partner School Districts

Council Bluffs Community School District

Marshalltown Community School District


Fall 2019–May 2021

Number of Schools Participating

Marshalltown: 7

Council Bluffs: 4

Number of Students Participating

Marshalltown: 2,134

Council Bluffs: 1,996

Grades Involved

Marshalltown: Grades 1–6

Council Bluffs: Grade 7–11


The Iowa Reading Research Center is partnering with the Council Bluffs and Marshalltown Community School Districts to determine which approach to scoring students’ writing best predicts Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) performance. The three approaches being studied are:

  • district teachers who know the students
  • an electronic system
  • independent scorers at the Iowa Reading Research Center

The IRRC worked with literacy leaders in both districts to develop rubrics aligned to ISASP that also would include language from the way writing was being taught. Rubrics are specific to grade level and the writing genre required by the prompt (narrative, informational, opinion/argument). Teachers and the IRRC scorers use the rubrics to evaluate the students’ written responses, and those responses are scored by an electronic scoring system. In Marshalltown, the writing prompts administered to the students were developed by the IRRC and reviewed for cultural bias by district personnel. Students respond to three different prompts during the school year—in fall, winter, and spring. The electronic scoring system was freeware capable of assessing over 1,000 indices of textual complexity.

In Council Bluffs, the prompts were generated by a computer-based writing practice program the district was using. Students respond to two different prompts during the school year—December and May. The writing practice program also includes an electronic scoring system with criteria similar to those on the rubrics.

After the IRRC receives students’ scores from the spring 2021 ISASP writing test administration, the IRRC team will analyze the data to determine which approach to scoring students’ practice writing responses had the strongest relationship to their performance on the standards-based assessment.