Goal statements: How to grade without rubrics

Last month, I attended KEMPA’s regional high school journalism conference, and I went to a session taught by an experienced newspaper adviser. She gave valuable advice to new advisers, including myself. One of the things she shared was her extensive rubric for grading that gives me heart palpitations just thinking about.

Grading is often the bane of the journalism adviser’s existence. It’s also a hot topic. Some advisers believe in rubrics and points; others take a more holistic approach. When it comes to DAILY online journalism, I don’t know how any digital media adviser can keep up with rubrics. But I’d love to hear about it, if any of you do!

Because I’m not organized enough, because Niles West News publishes daily, and because so far I haven’t had a parent or student complaint, I grade based on student-created Goal Statements. At the beginning of each semester, every student needs to create a list of self goals and team goals. Throughout the semester, I meet with students individually about their progress, tweak goals, and converse with them about goals that are not being met. Their grade for the quarter and semester is based on this simple statement, which I publicize on my website: “If a student meets his or her goals (or comes close to), he or she will receive an A.”

It’s that simple.

On the two-hour bus ride to KEMPA, I meet with students about their goals. I had to have the somewhat uncomfortable conversation with a few students who weren’t meeting their goals. It went something like this:

“You say here that you wanted to write 3-4 stories a month. Have you met that goal?”
“No, not really.”
“Is there a reason why? Could you be writing more?”
“Yes, definitely. I want to write more feature stories.”
“Ok, good. You will be receiving a B for the quarter as motivation to improve.”

The best part about this system, for me, is that it’s the student’s goal NOT mine. Occasionally, I will have to work with a student at the beginning of the year to help them write attainable or more challenging goals. Also, the final exam for the course consists of a one-page reflection on these goals and a conference with me.

Here are an example of student goal statements:


Personal Goals

  1. I will cover most major news stories, writing my monthly blog and at least 3-4 articles a month.
  2. I will edit all News stories.
  3. I will run an organized department meeting in which matters get discussed and stories get distributed.
  4. I want at least on of my stories to be on the “Story of the Week” board. (Note: She already has three! Story of the Week is determined by google analytic data and reader interaction)
  5. I want to continue to improve my interviewing skills.
  6. I will try to convince my parents to let me go on an overnight trip. (Note: She is going to the NSPA conference in Minneapolis.)

Team Goals (News):

  1. As the news department, have the most hits during the week at least five times this semester.
  2. Write stories that mean something to the student body.
  3. Publish stories in a timely manner.

Team Goals (Entire Staff):

  1. Reach 500,000 pageviews by the end of the school year
  2. Approve 100 comments each month
  3.  Publish 10 stories a week
  4. Run timely stories within two days of occurrence
  5. Raise $2,000 by the end of the year
  6. Hold more contests
  7. Go to conferences
  8. Win another Pacemaker
  9. Win two more Best-in-Show Awards
  10. Recruit freshmen

(Note: Team goals are agreed upon by the entire staff at a meeting held in April of the prior school year. Students are excused from their classes for half a day to meet in the newsroom and conduct the annual Goal Meeting.)

3 thoughts on “Goal statements: How to grade without rubrics

  • November 21, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    This is awesome. I’m always trying to figure out a way to authentically grade my students. This really sparks some ideas. Thanks, Evelyn.

  • November 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Glad this helped! I’m not a rubric fan, so this system works for me.

  • November 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I love this idea–I’ve been doing a points menu system for a few years, which has its merits, but with recent students, it seems to have lost its effectiveness.

    It looks like this is a good long-term solution to grading and that it’s not as susceptible a student taking advantage of the system. Have you encountered any issues with it?

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