Holistic grading of essays written by native and non-native writers by instructors and independent raters: A comparative study

Margaret Mary Sheehan, University of Rhode Island


This research examined the effects of the presence or absence of linguistic features identifying a writer as a non-native speaker of English on the evaluation of a student's text, and the ability of raters to distinguish between native and non-native writers based on their overall perception of a text. Classroom instructors, expert evaluators and independent raters graded eighty essays written by college freshmen during their first semester of composition instruction. The classroom instructors graded the essays according to the standards established by their department. The independent raters graded the same essays holistically using a fixed rubric with levels 1–5 that focused on the overall effectiveness of the essays and not the grammatical and structural features that might identify the writer's native language abilities. Secondly, the raters were asked to identify the students as speakers of English as a first or second language. The holistic scores assigned by the independent raters to native and non-native writers were analyzed, and no significant differences were found between the scores assigned to the native and non-native speakers of English. The scores assigned by the classroom instructors and the independent raters were also compared, and while differences existed, they were not significant. The independent readers were able to identify the native and non-native writers 70–80% of the time. The results of this research indicate that independent raters, when they are evaluating essays of native and non-native writers, followed a fixed rubric, and they were not influenced by second language linguistic features. Furthermore, the data indicate that errors in grammar and structure present in the text of both native and non-native writers are treated equally for both groups. ^

Subject Area

Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Margaret Mary Sheehan, "Holistic grading of essays written by native and non-native writers by instructors and independent raters: A comparative study" (2002). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3053122.