Special Guest Blog by Dr. Kathryn Taylor, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education

Note from Rhonda: I’d like to thank Dr. Taylor for sharing her expertise about the what, why, and how of rubrics. Many faculty who are experts in their field, but who are not formally trained as educators, have questions about rubrics. If this is you, the detail in this blog post is just the right amount of information to get you started!

What is a Rubric?

There are a variety of definitions for the word “rubric.”  Collectively, most of the definitions include the following idea: a document that includes the criteria for grading an assignment, what the criteria are worth, and a description of the levels of quality.

Why use a Rubric?

There are many advantages to using rubrics in assessment. Rubrics allow assessment to be less subjective and more consistent, allow the instructor to clarify their criteria in specific terms, show the student how their work will be evaluated and what is expected, provide useful feedback for the teacher regarding the effectiveness of their instruction, and allow the students and teacher the opportunity for formative assessment.

Rubrics allow assessment to be less subjective and more consistent.   When grading essays, projects, performances, artwork, or other performance-based assessments teachers need to be consistent and as objective as possible.  Unlike multiple choice or true and false items, these assessments require additional grading time and energy. A rubric provides a stable guide and focus for grading.

The instructor can clarify and design the criteria for the assessment. When designing the rubric, the instructor can determine the weight of each criterion and describe, in specific terms, the levels of quality.  This provides the instructor the opportunity to adjust and modify the various criteria, until the rubric appropriately reflects the objectives that are being measured.

Questions that students have (and may or may not ask) are “what do you want us to include” and “how are you going to grade us on the assignment?”  Rubrics provide the students a clear description of what is expected and how their work will be evaluated. Rubrics eliminate confusion for the students and clarify the levels of achievement that will ultimately result in a grade or score.

Another advantage to using rubrics is receiving useful feedback regarding the effectiveness of the instruction. This is helpful to instructors as they consider how the students perform with regard to each of the criteria.  This can assist instructors in changing their instruction or re-teaching if students are not able to perform at the desired level.

Rubrics provide the students and instructor the opportunity to engage in formative assessment. Rubrics provide benchmarks against which to measure and document progress. Formative assessments support learning during the learning process.

Formative assessment empowers students to take ownership of their own progress, allowing them to understand what success looks like and how to do better. When students are provided the rubric when the assignment is given and provided the opportunity to receive feedback prior to the final submission of the assignment, they discover their strengths and weaknesses, and make improvements before the grade becomes final. Students and teachers can use rubrics to clarify the standards for a quality performance, and to guide ongoing feedback about progress toward those standards.

Types of Rubrics

There are four types of rubrics: analytic, holistic, task specific, and general.  Typically, rubrics are either analytic or holistic.  Analytic rubrics identify and assess components of a performance, process, or product. Analytic scoring calls for instructors to score each of the noted criteria for the assignment.   Thus, if there are several dimensions of quality, use an analytic rubric.  Holistic rubrics assess student work as a whole.  Holistic scoring gives students a single, overall assessment score for the performance, process, or product as a whole. When there is a single dimension of quality, use a holistic rubric. Although the scoring rubric for holistic scoring will include specific criteria, just as the rubric for analytic scoring does, instructors do not assign a score for each criterion in holistic scoring. Rather, as they evaluate the process or product, they balance strengths and weaknesses among the various criteria to arrive at an overall assessment of success or effectiveness of the performance, process, or product.

Scoring rubrics may be designed for the evaluation of a specific task or the evaluation of a broader category of tasks. Task specific rubrics focus on a specific assignment with elements that are unique for that assignment. For example, if a presentation focuses upon a historical event and the purpose of the assessment is to evaluate the student’s knowledge of their topic, a general scoring rubric for evaluating a an oral presentation may not be adequate. In order to evaluate the student’s conceptual knowledge of these events, it may be necessary to develop a task specific rubric that includes criteria related to the historical content of the presentation. General rubrics can be used repeatedly for a course. For example, if the purpose of a given course is to develop a student’s oral communication skills, a general scoring rubric may be developed and used to evaluate each of the oral presentations.

Click the link to see examples of the various types of rubrics: http://www.utexas.edu/academic/ctl/assessment/iar/students/report/rubrics-types.php

Rubric Development

The first step is to determine what you are measuring with your rubric.  Thus, what are your objectives?  The content of the rubric should directly reflect the objectives and the related task that you are measuring.  Once you have determined your objectives and the task, you need to determine the criteria that can be used to determine the quality of the performance, process, or product you are measuring. I find it helpful to list those criteria in a logical order, grouping them if needed.  Once the criteria are determined, write a descriptive statement that reflects the highest quality of each criterion.  Next, determine what type of rubric you need.  Your options are: general analytic, general holistic, task specific analytic, and task specific holistic.

Once these tasks are completed, you can begin building the rubric. There are five major features that should be considered when building the rubric:  content, organization, appropriate number of quality levels, well-defined levels, and parallel levels.

Does the rubric cover the right content?  The rubric should 1) directly connect to the objectives, standards, and learning targets, 2) include all essential features (as determined by those in your field) that reflect quality in a process, product, or performance, 3) support your thinking about what you look for when evaluating student work, and 4) leave out items that are unrelated to the objectives, standards and learning targets.

Are the criteria organized?  A few general guidelines for organizing the criteria: 1) criteria should be organized into a useable form, 2) group similar features into criteria, and 3) the relative importance of each criterion should equal the relative contribution to the overall product, performance, or process.  Those criteria that reflect the focus or the most important aspects of the task should be worth more points or weighted appropriately.

Are there an appropriate number of levels for the task? The number of levels should be appropriate for the intended learning target. If you have too many levels, you may have difficulty defining the various levels of quality that can be reflected in the student work.  When this happens, it is difficult for students and instructors to distinguish the differences between each level.

Are the levels defined appropriately? Each level should be defined so that the features of each level are clear to students and instructors.  The definition of each level should reflect the best thinking about excellent, average or poor quality.  When defining levels, remember that quantity does not necessarily reflect quality.  Use descriptive words that can be used to convey the quality of a process, product or performance.

Are the levels parallel?  There should be parallel features in each defined level.  Thus, if a rubric includes a feature in one level of a criterion, it should be in all levels (excellent, average, poor).  For example, if a general science rubric includes a “strategies” criterion and the “excellent” level includes a statement about scientific reasoning, then the “average” and “poor” levels must also include a statement about scientific reasoning.

A Rubric for Rubrics!

Click this A Rubric for Rubrics! link for a PDF rubric for building quality rubrics.

Helpful Links

Below are some websites that include samples of rubrics used at the college level and helpful resources for faculty. NOTE:  You may need to copy and past the link into the search box on some sites.

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment: www.learningoutcomeassessment.org/Rubrics.htm‎

Michigan State University, Office of Faculty and Organizational Development: fod.msu.edu/oir/rubrics

University of Southern Maine, Office of Academic Assessment: https://usm.maine.edu/assessment/grading-rubrics

Winona State University (Links to the Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education): http://course1.winona.edu/shatfield/air/rubrics.htm

Carnegie Mellon University: http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/rubrics.html

DePaul University: http://teachingcommons.depaul.edu/Feedback_Grading/rubrics.html

University of Central Florida, Teaching and Learning Resources: http://www.fctl.ucf.edu/teachingandlearningresources/coursedesign/assessment/assessmenttoolsresources/rubrics.php