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Using Rubrics

What is a rubric?

A rubric is tool used by an instructor to assess student work. In particular, rubrics can be useful because they help both instructor and student understand expectations for an assignment, as well as how that assignment will be assessed. Because rubrics can take some time to create and use, they are most often used for weighty summative assessments, such as papers, discussions, projects, etc.

There are many different ways to format or structure a rubric. However, no matter their format, all rubrics outline some type of criteria for grading and describe how a student might meet that criteria. This guide will take a look at several different types of rubrics later on and discuss their various advantages and disadvantages.

Why should I use a rubric?

Check Marks in a Box [View Image]According to Gregory (2014), there are a number of researched-supported reasons instructors might want to us a rubric for an assignment, including:

  • Transparency: Rubrics make it easier for students to understand how they are being assessed. Because rubrics are short, generally no more than 1-2 pages, students can understand assignment expectations at a glance.
  • Consistency: Often times, instructors have several sections of the same course. Rubrics ensure that the instructors are using the same grading process for each course.
  • Establishing objectivity: Students sometimes have concerns about whether an instructor’s grading procedures are “fair” or objective. By establishing the exact grading criteria, rubrics create the sense that an instructor is fair and unbiased.
  • Efficiency: It’s no secret that grading assessments can sometimes take huge amounts of time. Rubrics help instructors streamline the process of grading and make grading more efficient.
  • Self-assessment and peer-assessment: Rubrics have the added benefit of allowing students to self-assess, as well as easily engage in peer-assessment activities.
  • Track student improvement: It can be very beneficial to use rubrics in conjunction with formative assessments to track students’ progress. Rubrics, and the feedback on rubrics, allow instructors to see how and where students have improved or where they still might improve.

Types of Rubrics:

Next, let’s take a look at different types of rubrics; we’ll cover three types in this guide:

  • Holistic Rubrics
  • Analytic Rubrics
  • Single-point rubrics

Holistic Rubric

A holistic rubric is a fairly general rubric, and it is easy to use and create. A holistic rubric gives a “whole” picture description of what is expected for an assignment, and it aligns these expectations with a corresponding grade or achievement level.

Figure 1 portrays a sample structure for a holistic rubric. The left side lists possible grades, but particular points values could be easily added here as well. The second column shows a description of the expectations for that grade. So, for the assignment that corresponds to this rubric, the instructor would consider: what would an assignment that earned an A look like, versus one that earned a B? And so on.Table depicting a possible template for a holistic rubric. [View Image]Figure 1: Sample structure for holistic rubric

Figure 2 shows a completed example of a holistic rubric. This was created for a hypothetical discussion board activity in an English literature classroom. You’ll notice that, in the right-hand column, grades and points values are listed, as well as a brief descriptor of the overall performance like “outstanding” or “average.” The second column contains a detailed description of what qualities an assignment would have in order to earn an A or B, etc.Table depicting a sample holistic rubric. [View Image]Figure 2: Completed sample of a holistic rubric for discussion board in English literature course

Advantages and Disadvantages of Holistic Rubrics:

According to Balch, Blanck, and Balch (2016), there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to using holistic rubrics. Advantages include that they are easy for the instructor to create and that they also help the instructor grade an assignment quickly. However, disadvantages include that they are very general and therefore do not allow much room to provide students personalized feedback.

Analytic Rubric

Most of the time, when instructors envision a rubric, this is probably what they’re thinking of. These rubrics generally have three key features, which may be given different names depending on who you ask. Terminology found in the Utah Education Network’s guide is some of the most clear, so we’ll use that in this guide. The three components of an analytic rubric are:

  1. Criteria: The first component a rubric should have is criteria for assessment. In other words, what are the actual expectations for the assignment, or by what standards does the instructor intend to grade the assignment? Let’s use the same example as the holistic rubric on the previous page. Imagine students in an English literature course are completing a discussion board on Canvas; for this assignment, perhaps the instructor wants to assess students on: a) response to the provided prompt, b) use of supporting evidence from the text, c) quality of interaction/discussion with peers, and d) professionalism. Each of these items would be then listed in the criteria portion of the rubric.
  2. Performance rating: A rubric should also contain performance ratings. These are designed to help you answer the question: how did the student perform for each criteria? You may also wish to include a points value here so that students can easily understand what their performance equates to in terms of grade. Often, this portion of the rubric uses language like “excellent,” “good,” and “poor.”
  3. Performance descriptions: The performance descriptions are the bulkiest part of the rubric. For this part of the rubric, you will describe the traits that correspond with each criteria and performance rating. So, going back to the English lit discussion board example, what would an “excellent” performance rating look like for students’ response to the prompt? What would a “good” performance look like? What about “poor”? The language for the performance descriptions should spell out how a student earns a particular performance rating for each criteria.

Below, figure 3 illustrates the “bones” of a basic analytic rubric structure and depicts the location and format of the criteria, performance rating, and performance descriptions.Table depicting sample of an analytic rubric [View Image]Figure 3: Sample rubric structure with criteria, performance rating, and performance description

Figure 4 shows a full example of an analytic rubric for the same discussion board activity we’ve be referring to. You’ll notice that the bulk of the rubric is performance descriptions and that the rubric specifically details the expectations for every level of performance for each of the stated criteria.Completed sample of an analytic rubric [View Image]Figure 4: Sample holistic rubric for Canvas discussion board in an English literature course

Advantages and Disadvantages of Analytic Rubrics:

According to Balch, Blanck, and Balch (2016), analytic rubrics are advantageous in that they help the instructor give students valuable feedback, while at the same time giving students clear ideas about how an assignment will be graded. Additionally, they provide the instructor with the ability to grade objectively and consistently.

There are also two major disadvantages. The first is that they do take considerable time to create because they require so much detailed information to be effective. Secondly, because they are so detailed, it is possible that students may not take the time to read them. (Balch, Blanck, and Balch, 2016).

Single Point Rubric

Single point rubrics are a sort of cousin to analytic rubrics. Like an analytic rubric, single point rubrics list the criteria for an assignment, as well as descriptors; however, while an analytic rubric describes each performance rating, a single point rubric describes only the proficient level. The rubric allows room for the instructor to provide written feedback (Balch, Blanck, and Balch, 2016).

Figure 5 shows the bones of a single point rubric.Column depicting a single point rubric template. [View Image]Figure 5 Template of a single point rubric

Figure 6 depicts a completed single point rubric. Notice that the “below expectations” and the “exceeds expectations” columns are blank. In these two columns, the instructor would write in comments and feedback to students, noting any instance within a particular criteria where the student either did not perform according to expectations or places where they surpassed expectations.Chart showing sample of a single-point rubric. [View Image]Figure 6 Completed single point rubric for discussion board in an English literature course

Advantages and Disadvantages: 

Some of the advantages of single-point rubrics are they they take less time to create since instructors are only writing in one column of performance descriptions. Additionally, unlike other types of rubrics, they do allow the instructor to write in personalized feedback to students while still offering students the objectivity of an analytic rubric. However, the major disadvantages of this rubric is that writing in those personalized comments can take a large amount of the instructor’s time.

How to Create a Rubric

Step 1: Decide the purpose

Decide for what purpose you are creating a rubric. You may want to take into account whether your rubric is intended to be a general rubric or a task-specific rubric (Brookhart, 2013). A general rubric is one that is not assignment-specific; it is a rubric that can be given to students and used for many different assignments. For example, a general rubric might be created for all writing assignments in a course. A task-specific rubric is one that is developed for one assignment, or task, in particular. For example, perhaps you have one research assignment that is very different than your other assignments, so you create a task-specific rubric for this particular assignment.

Step 2: Choose a format

Decide which type of rubric is best for your purposes. Remember, there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to each of the rubrics we’ve covered in this guide (see previous pages.)

Step 3: Look at models

When create your own rubric, Andrade (2000) suggests first looking at models of the type of rubric you want to create. This might be particularly helpful if you have not created a rubric before or are creating a rubric for a new kind of assignment.

Step 4: Define your criteria

Decide what is important to students to demonstrate in the assessment. Make a list of those criteria. If there is overlap, see where you might combine those criteria to be more clear and concise. (Andrade, 200)

Step 5: Define your grading scale and performance rating

Once you decided what you want your students to be evaluated on, it’s time to decide what scale you will provide to rate student performance. How many levels will you provide? What terminology will you use? Will you assign points? If so, how do the points values equate to your performance descriptors?

Step 6: Write your rubric

Once you’ve decided on a structure of your rubric, and figure all the moving pieces, then you can start building your rubric. When you finish, it might be helpful to have a colleague or a student check the rubric for clarity.

Checklist and Rating Scale

If creating a rubric seems too daunting or like it’s involved for a simple assignment, then you may be in need of a checklist or a rating scale. Though some might classify these tools as types of rubrics, Brookhart (2013) insists they are not technically rubrics because they lack the detailed performance descriptions of a rubric.

Regardless, checklists and rating scales can be useful tools when it comes to assessment, particularly for shorter or formative assessments.

 

Checklists

When it comes to assessment, a checklist is exactly what it sounds like: a list of criteria along with a simple designation of yes, the student did it or no, the student did not. These are useful in providing some guidelines about expectations for students and as a quick way of providing a grade for something that may not be a major grade or for which something that needs to be graded quickly.

Figure 7 shows an example of a checklist for our discussion board example assignment. Because there are no specific criteria and performance rating listed, it emphasizes completion rather than content. The “yes/no” column could also be shown using other terms, such as “complete/incomplete” or “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” or “present/missing.” [View Image]Figure 7 Checklist for discussion board response in English literature course

Rating Scales

A rating scale is a bit like a less detailed analytic rubric. Again, though useful for formative assessments, they can be tricky for more significant assignments because of the vague language. Figure 8 shows an example of a rating scale. Notice, it lists criteria with a simple checkbox to rate a students’ performance on a scale of excellent to poor. The danger, however, is that there are no specific statements about how “excellent” or “poor” are defined. Thus, this type of assessment tool does not offer the same sense of objectivity that an analytic rubric does.Rating Scale Sample [View Image]Figure 8: Rating scale for discussion board post in English literature course

Additional Resources and References for Rubrics

To learn more about rubrics, check out some of the resources below.

You can also download the Word document version of the rubrics by clicking here.

General Rubric Resources:

Analytic Rubrics:

Single-point rubrics:

References

Andrade, Heidi Goodrich (2000). Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning. Educational Leadership, 57 (5), 13-18. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb00/vol57/num05/Using-Rubrics-to-Promote-Thinking-and-Learning.aspx

Balch, D., Blanck, R., & Blach, D. H. (2016). Rubrics—sharing the rules of the game. Journal of Instructional Research, 5, 19-47. Retrieved from ERIC.

Brookhart, Susan M. (2013). What are rubrics and why are they important. In How to create and use rubrics. Retrieved on December 13, 2019 from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct97/vol55/num02/What’s-Wrong%E2%80%94and-What’s-Right%E2%80%94with-Rubrics.aspx

Gregory , J. (2014, September). Creating and using rubrics. Retrieved December 13, 2019, from https://ctl.iupui.edu/Resources/Assessing-Student-Learning/Creating-and-Using-Rubrics.

Popham, James W. (1997, October). What’s wrong—and what’s right—with rubrics. Educational Leadership, 55 (2). Retrieved December 13, 2019 from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct97/vol55/num02/What’s-Wrong%E2%80%94and-What’s-Right%E2%80%94with-Rubrics.aspx


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