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Evaluative Criteria and Grading Standards

Brought to you today by the letter "C"

Because this is a writing-intensive section, your submissions will be graded on both content and writing.


What am I looking for?
Content, completion, and clarity

For this course to qualify as a section of Capstone, your papers must contain all of the standard components. When I evaluate your submissions, I will be looking for these components. You'll find explanations in greater detail in your handbook, but the main ones are

  • Social problem

  • Policy intended to address social problem

  • Background/History/Definitions

  • Proponents of the policy

  • Opponents of the policy

  • Arguments for and against the policy

  • Issues within the arguments identified

  • Analysis of arguments (both evaluative and ethical)

  • Stakeholders (people affected by the policy)

  • Actors (people or groups with the ability to affect policy)

  • Conflicting values

  • Research

  • Expert interviews

  • Civic engagement (immersive reporting)

  • Your own conclusion

Traditional final Capstone papers order these components according to a standard template to make it easy for university readers to find them. Ours, however, will order them in the service of narrative and effective rhetorical strategies.



Once you have gathered the components, you will use them to construct an engaging narrative. This is where your training as writers comes in. Your final product should look something like a feature article from The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic, or other producers of high-quality literary non-fiction, also called long-form journalism or creative non-fiction.


Literary Non-fiction

The long-form pieces you'll read this semester are narrative-driven stories. They use elements of creative writing such as character, voice, theme, conflict, and resolution to engage readers. I'll be looking for these elements of story telling to evaluate your writing.


We construct these stories, according to the writer Tom Wolfe, by moving readers through carefully framed scenes--effectively

placing the reader in the story. The kind of detail required to do this successfully demands immersive reporting. In the end, these stories must also be factually accurate. Facts are not reshaped to fit a narrative arc or build tension through rising conflict. Facts come from thorough reporting--research, interviewing, and observation--digging with a purpose.


Essay,Personal History, and the Author's Presence

Because you will be present as a character in your own story--there's no getting around this with the interviews and civic engagement--you will have to be deliberate about that presence. While the essay may have a great deal of overlap with the other types of magazine features--research, carefully framed scenes, "big-picture" ideas, and even how-to--what distinguishes it is the strong sense of the author's voice. The author's presence, whether explicit or implicit, is vivid. Think of Chuck Klosterman's presence in "Bending Spoons with Britney Spears," Lindy West's, or David Foster Wallace's. Like other essayists with distinctive styles and voices, Klosterman, West, and Wallace were hired specifically for their distinctive voices and storytelling agility.


How do these components correspond with number/letter grades?
Starting with mastery

A good way to think of grading is to start with the concept of mastery. Your job as a student is to master certain skills in each class. Administrators call these Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) and they are the objectives of classes on the small scale and higher education on a large scale. So, mastery, or were you able to achieve at a basic level the SLOs of this course, equals an average grade: C. Here's the overall breakdown.


Mind-blowingly good. Almost perfect. An A paper has few or no surface errors and is often so engaging and readable that readers don't see the errors even if they're there. A papers are technically proficient. They incorporate sources seamlessly, move fluently from one idea to the next toward a satisfying conclusion, and weave together all of the required pieces with an appropriate tone and consistent voice. A means mastery plus excellence plus innovation/thoughtfulness. Points: 90-100.


A B paper is a step up from basic mastery (C) and adds a level of excellence. It is innovative and very strong overall, but may not be quite as close to mind-blowingly perfect in all of the areas named above (technical proficiency, seamless incorporation of sources, fluency and cohesiveness, appropriate tone, and consistent voice). The easiest way to think of a B is the most obvious: the range between an A and a C, better than basic mastery, but not quite as outstanding as an A. Points: 80-89.


And, here we are, back at C, which means mastery of the SLOs for the course. These are outlined in the "Introduction" chapter of your handbook (9-11). Our section differs slightly in some of the concrete pieces such as the Oral Presentation and the Research Folder (we do not do these). However, the lists of Research Tasks, Presentation of Research Findings, Critical Thinking and Moral Reasoning, and Communication Tasks are almost perfect lists of Capstone SLOs. The pages that I have to submit to the Capstone office with your final grade looks very much like these lists. Basic mastery and completion of these is a C. Points: 70-79.


I've heard from former Capstone students that "D stands for Diploma." That is true in that you can pass Captone with a D and still graduate. Using our C = mastery standard, D would then mean that some of the components are poorly executed or missing entirely. Points: 60-69.


A failing grade means that there are more than just a couple of poorly executed or missing components and the final paper is either difficult to read or doesn't qualify as a Capstone paper. Points: 0-59.


Additional considerations. Attendance, participation, quizzes, and conference meetings are also factors in your final grade. Please make sure that you are familiar with the policies on the main page.


Here's the Capstone Final Rubric that the secondary readers use to score your final paper. Ignore the "Oral Communication" title. That doesn't apply to use because we are a special topics section.