Introduction to Rubrics Example Rubrics
A rubric is a very flexible grading tool that can be used to clarify your expectations, make grading more efficient, promote student learning, and assess student learning. Rubrics are especially useful for grading complex, subjective assignments that don’t have just one “right” answer, such as papers, reports, and performances.
Rubrics include a list of dimensions or aspects of the assignment (such as “organization”, “argumentation”, “creativity”, “use of color”, “depth of analysis”, etc.). For each dimension, there is a description of the highest level of achievement. This represents what the student should be aiming for. In addition, there are descriptions of the lower levels of achievement for each dimension. A rubric is typically given to the students ahead of time, before they turn in their assignments. Ideally, it is given to them at the time the assignment is made.
Rubrics can and should be used to make your expectations clear to your students. Rubrics can also be used to collect assessment results for accreditation and for analysis and improvement of your class or program.
Why use Rubrics?
Here are some compelling reasons for using rubrics in our classes:
- Rubrics make our expectations clear to students, so they can focus their time and energy on the aspects of the assignment that are most important. The characteristics of excellent work are spelled out for the students (without giving away any answers), so students know what they should be striving to perform on the assignment.
- When your expectations and grading criteria are clearly provided for students, there are far fewer arguments about grades (“She got an A but I only got a B. Why? I don’t understand. It’s not fair!”)
- Rubrics save grading time. When grading with a rubric, simply circle the appropriate description for each aspect of the assignment instead of making lengthy comments on each student’s paper. If you know of a common type of error or a comment that you frequently write on student papers, include it on the rubric. When students make that mistake, just circle the item on the rubric.
- Using a rubric allows you to grade consistently. This is especially helpful if more that one person is grading the assignment. However, even if you’re the only person grading the assignment, it helps you be more consistent, since your grading standards are right there in front of you.
- Since using a rubric can allow you to grade assignments faster, students get feedback sooner, and can then make adjustments and corrections as soon as possible. Students can get the most out of feedback if it is given soon after they complete the assignment.
- Rubrics provide an efficient way of conveying useful feedback to students. When their assignments are returned and they look over the completed rubric, they have a clear sense of where their strengths and weaknesses are. Since the description of the highest performance level is also on the rubric, they also have an idea of what they need to do to improve.
- Rubrics can help students evaluate their work and that of others. By comparing their work to the performance standards of the rubric, students can learn to recognize and produce quality work.
- Rubrics can be used to help us refine our teaching skills. When you use a rubric to grade assignments, you can easily make photocopies of the completed rubrics before returning them to students. One can then tally how the class did overall on each dimension of the assignment. A look at the tally can tell you the strong and weak points of the entire class. This information can be used to modify or improve the class. What should you be spending more time or effort on? The results of the tally give you evidence for what is working well and what could be improved. The next time you teach this class, you can grade the same assignment again and see if there’s any change in class results as a result of the changes/improvements you made. Surprise! You are performing assessment and “closing the loop”.
- Rubrics can be used for assessment. By tallying how a class (or students in a program) performed on different aspects of the assignment, it becomes clear where the problem areas are. This information can be used to improve or make changes to an individual class or to an entire program. You can track how students perform on particular aspects over several semesters to gauge the effects of teaching modifications and improvements.
- Rubrics are very flexible and can be created to suit any assignment or situation. However, rubrics do take some time to create. Some examples of rubrics are shown here. There are also online tools to help make it easier for you. After you have developed a rubric for a particular assignment, you can easily use it in subsequent semesters with little if any modifications. Once you create a rubric, the work is mostly done. Also, if you have similar kinds of assignments, once you make one rubric you can modify it slightly to fit other assignments.
How to construct a rubric
1. Decide on a manageable number of important dimensions or “primary traits” of the assignment. (For example: organization, clarity, grammar/mechanics, depth of analysis, creativity, etc.)
2. For each dimension or trait, define “excellent” performance. Be as specific as possible.
3. Decide how many performance levels you would like to include. Decide on the labels for each performance level. Examples:
- Excellent, competent, needs work (3 levels)
- Exemplary, competent, developing (3 levels)
- Accomplished, proficient, developing, beginning (4 levels)
- Distinguished, proficient, intermediate, novice (4 levels)
- Well done, satisfactory, needs work, incomplete (4 levels)
- Excellent, good, adequate, needs work, incomplete (5 levels)
4. Define the remaining performance levels (“good”, “adequate”, “needs work”, etc.) for each dimension. Be as specific as possible. Describe each level as completely as you can. For example, make sure to specify how “good” is different from “adequate” or “excellent”.
5. Assign points for each category. Make sure that the number of points assigned corresponds to the appropriate grade according to your grading scale. Each dimension can be weighted differently, since there may be some aspects of the assignment that are more important than others.
If using a rubric seems too formulaic to you, it’s possible to build some flexibility into the rubric. If creativity or extra effort is important to you, just include it as one of the dimensions of the rubric and weight it accordingly.
How to use a rubric to collect assessment information
1. Hand out the rubric to your students along with the assignment. Discuss in class how it will be used.
2. When students turn in their completed work, grade it using the rubric. (Make copies of the rubric so that you are filling one out for each student.) Circle appropriate items on the rubric when grading, add comments if necessary, and add up the points.
3. Make photocopies of the completed rubrics.
4. Staple a completed (filled-out) rubric to each assignment and return the work to students.
5. For each component/dimension/primary trait (organization, analysis, voice, content, etc.), tally the number of students in each performance category. (For example, how many students had “excellent” organization? How many had “good” organization? How many had organization that “needs work”?)
6. Analyze and reflect on the results. Were there any dimensions/primary traits that had low overall scores? Focus your improvement efforts on those aspects. (What could you do differently in class? More explanation of that aspect? A clearer handout explaining that aspect? An additional assignment that specifically focuses on that aspect? More practice? More feedback? Providing a model?) Discuss your results with other faculty members in your department. What did you find out about student learning from the assessment?
7. Report on your results and the improvements made as a result of the assessment.