In Continuation schools we find many students HATE writing essays, and that is pretty much the consensus I got at comprehensive schools as well; but, in my opinion essays are the gateway to student knowledge. That is to say essays or any writing for that matter, allow students the chance to really show what they know, and I like that.
At my school we have school-wide writing prompts that give us data on what we need to be teaching students in all of our classes, focused on writing. We stress the need for thesis statements because they are usually the answer to a prompt/ question/ performance task. So if they can answer that clearly, they usually got the concept and can write about it in more detail. Here is an example of the rubric we used. We found that it was essential to all be on the same page and have the same goal when grading the essay. Some key things we looked for were, clear and focused thesis statements, sentence variation, descriptive language, spelling and grammar errors, and paragraph sentence length. We had to put in paragraph sentence length because we found a wave students that thought that a line on a piece of paper was a sentence, rather than a complete sentence with a Capital letter to start the sentence, and a period to finish the complete sentence. I have found this is common amongst students that attend continuation schools, and something that we teach as soon as we get a new student. We also used this to grade a pass/ not passing grade. All not passing grades students would have to edit for a grade. To get buy-in to our writing prompt is an assignment, and if they don't pass they just make the necessary edits for credit. We feel that editing and refining is the best way our students can learn to be good writers.
Having a school wide writing prompt helped us move in the direction of the Common Core. It allowed all content area teachers see the writing expectations students were getting in the English classes, which allowed other content area teachers to practice looking for good writing so they could model those expectations in their classrooms. If you would like to use this in your class, you are welcome to use and edit this rubric as necessary. For the name blocked out Word Doc of this rubric click here