Today's elementary school writing assessments, just like those for math and science, have opened the floodgates of subjectivity.
Restricting ourselves to what's visible online, let's consider the Delaware State Writing Rubric as used, for example, by the Christina School District. Its standards for top quality elementary school prose include: "sufficient, specific, and relevant details that are fully elaborated," "smooth transitions," "effective introduction and closing," "appropriate" sentence variety, and "vivid word choice."
Turning to the California writing standards as used, for example, by the k-6 Museum School in San Diego, we see "writes with confidence," "well-chosen details," "descriptive words," "concrete, sensory details," "provides insight into why the selected incident is memorable," "self-motivated," "shows originality," "developed voice, sense of style, purpose," and "develops plot and character."
Of course, much of this has long governed middle and high school English assessments. Here, most teachers have majored or minored in English and, I would hope, know something about good writing.
But such subjectivity is relatively new to elementary schools, where teachers once judged students primarily on penmanship, spelling, and grammar.
How qualified are these teachers, whose writing backgrounds may have ended with freshman English, and who often score in the bottom third on their SATs, to judge details, word choice, transitions, voice, and character development?
How well they assess other people's writing must have something to do with how well they write themselves.
Howling over exceptionally bad teacher prose has become a blood sport among education bashers. Let's rise above this and consider, instead, a sample that reflects the writing skills, not of your average elementary school teacher, but of the leaders of today's Language Arts establishment. Here's the opening sentence of the overview by the National Council of Teachers of English of their Standards for the English Language Arts:
The vision guiding these standards is that all students must have the opportunities and resources to develop the language skills they need to pursue life's goals and to participate fully as informed, productive members of society.
There's not much here in the way of detail or vivid words, but in its four-fold embedding of clauses, this sample is nothing if not "elaborate." Eliminating the wordiness, repetition, and awkward, passive phrasing (as in "the vision.. is that") reduces the 36 words down to 25:
These standards seek to enable all students to acquire the language skills they need to pursue their goals and participate knowledgeably and productively in society.
But some teachers, especially elementary teachers, may be so poorly trained in writing, and so indoctrinated in "fully elaborated detail," that they are unable to distinguish useful detail from excessive verbiage. And, I expect, would rate my revision as inferior to NCTE's original.
The problem with subjective standards is that when under-skilled people use them, they often end up favoring inferior products.
Until our grade school teachers' writing skills match their indoctrination in today's writing standards, the latter have no place in elementary school writing assessments.