How Rubrics Help Teachers TEACH and Learners LEARN

Instructor, why did I receive 90% for my assignment?

Professor, I uploaded the assignment on time! Why did I get a C grade?

Teacher, Mary and Janice both received A’s for their final assignment, why did I only receive a B?

Why Use an Analytic Rubric?

These are all valid questions that can be addressed in an objective, teachable manner by including analytic and/or scoring rubrics with your course material. As a graduate and undergraduate instructor, I chose to use an analytic or scoring rubric. Analytic or scoring rubrics allow the teacher to teach and not judge by providing effective feedback to the student about their performance on coursework. For the student, a rubric clearly communicates the grading standards for an assignment. These standards are posted at the beginning of the assignment and shared with the class as a whole. A rubric helps the instructor provide feedback to questions such as those listed above in a fair and objective way that the student can understand.

Yes, analytic or scoring rubrics take time to develop, but the time is worth it not only to the student, but also to the teacher for following reasons:

Benefits for the Student/Learner

  1. Students/Learners will understand desired performance and what the grade will be for each level of performance.
  2. They will know what to do in order to achieve the desired grade.
  3. They can see what they need to do to enhance learning and where to improve.

Benefits for the Instructor/Teacher

  1. Rubrics help teachers teach and students learn by helping the teacher clarify course content and expected learning outcomes/objectives.
  2. Rubrics allow instructors and teachers to focus on the criteria by which learning will be assessed (learning outcomes/objectives).
  3. Rubrics help teachers focus on what they want students/learners to learn vs. what they intend to teach. Example: Marketing course outcomes/objective – to teach students how to develop a clear and deliverable marketing message that will encourage consumers to buy a product. Students will submit their assignments using PowerPoint. Teaching the students how to use PowerPoint is not a part of the learning outcomes/objectives of the lesson or the course. Teaching students how to develop a clear marketing message that encourages consumers to buy is the learning outcome/objective that needs to be “displayed” in a PowerPoint presentation.
  4. Teachers will stay clear on outcomes as well as course content. Example: Course Content – Social Media ROI. Learning Outcomes/Objectives – How to measure the financial stability of a social media campaign using Return On Investment principles and equations. 

Judging is NOT Teaching #NOJUDGING

Rubrics are a teaching tool that provides students with useful and effective feedback on areas of strength and weaknesses. Rubrics allow teachers to teach and not judge. As educators, the goal is not to judge a student’s performance. Judging often stops or stumps a student’s performance. As an educator, our goal is to provide effective and objective feedback on how the student/learner can enhance their performance based on rubric criteria.

Analytic rubrics also allow the focus to be on one criterion at a time. This is good for the instructor because it provides better formative assessments. It is good for students because they can see what aspects of their work need improving or where they need to pay more attention. As you can see, an analytical rubric helps both the teacher to teach and stay focus on learning outcomes as well as course content, while also providing students with learning outcomes/objectives regarding what is expected of them in order to achieve the desired level of performance.

Rubrics = Effective Objective Feedback

Let’s be honest, you can always pull together a quick and dirty, easy holistic rubric where all criteria are included in a single scale evaluation. But we don’t want quick and dirty, or easy. We want effective. Developing an analytical rubric can be addictive and help you to focus on what the student needs to do in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Analytical rubrics provide feedback for desired outcomes. They allow you to focus on content as well as on performance and criteria. Your students will know what is expected of them. They will know how to focus on the expected outcomes/objectives so they can execute and deliver and demonstrate that they have learned and understood not just course content, but learning outcomes and objectives as well.

What is a scoring rubric?

A scoring rubric is an efficient tool that allows you to objectively measure student performance on an assessment activity. Rubrics may vary in complexity, but generally do the following:

  • Focus on measuring very specific stated learning objectives
  • Use a range to rate performance
  • Are based on specific performance characteristics arranged in levels indicating the degree to which a standard has been met

There are two types of scoring rubrics:

  1. Primary trait analysis (separate, holistic scoring of specified characteristics or a product, activity or behavior); for assessment purposes, the primary traits are the learning outcomes being assessed. Separate scores are given for each trait or outcome. This is most useful when assessing a course or program.
  2. Holistic scoring (one global, holistic score for a product, activity or behavior); for assessment purposes, holistic scoring gives a single score for overall achievement of multiple learning outcomes. This is most useful when assessing a knowledge area such as critical thinking or communication.

Either type of rubric works well for assessment, so you should feel free to use the method you feel is most suited to the learning outcomes and assessment tool you are using.

How to Develop a Scoring Rubric?

With analytic rubrics you create a grid with criteria listed in the left column(s) and levels of performance listed across the top row. Performance levels can be either descriptive tags or numbers or a combination of both. The grid cells will contain the descriptions of the specific criteria for each level of performance. This helps to explain to the student/learner their performance criteria based on learning objectives/outcomes vs. judging student’s performance.

Once you have determined what you are assessing (a course, program, or large knowledge/skill set such as critical thinking) and have developed your assessment tool(s), you can develop your rubric. Download the Scoring Rubric templates (PDF) for details on developing primary trait analysis and holistic scoring rubrics.

  1. Identify the characteristics of what you are assessing. In most cases, these will be specific stated learning outcomes. Each rubric item will usually focus on a different skill or competency. Keep it simple, with perhaps 5-15 items stated in brief phrases.
  2. Describe the best work you could expect using these characteristics. This describes the top range of your rubric.
  3. Describe the worst acceptable product using these characteristics. This describes the lowest acceptable range of your rubric.
  4. Describe an unacceptable product. This describes the lowest range of your rubric.
  5. Develop descriptions of intermediate-level products and assign them to intermediate ranges. For a primary trait rubric you might choose a range of one to five for each item or learning outcome (for example: unacceptable, limited proficiency, proficient, good proficiency, superior proficiency). A sample range for holistic scoring might be a scale of one to four, with each range representing a series of achieved learning objectives (for example: completes all of the objectives, completes some of the objectives, completes few of the objectives, completes none of the objectives). Alternatively, you may choose a scale such as high pass, pass, low pass, or no pass. Select terminology that is clear, objective, and meaningful to your assessment tool and learning outcomes.

How To Use A Scoring Rubric

  • Use it to define performance on a single assessment tool such as a test or project, with each characteristic representing a learning outcome.
  • Use it to define program assessment, with each characteristic representing a broad outcome measured by a different assessment tool.
  • Use a scoring rubric to evaluate a test or assignment that is given in class for a grade. Score the assignment blindly with a rubric that is different from the method you use for grading, or have the assignment externally evaluated using a rubric. One method is to select several questions from a final, for example, and evaluate them using a rubric in which each question represents a learning outcome to be assessed.
  • Let students self-assess by having them complete a scoring rubric for an assignment or activity that is aligned with one or more learning outcomes that are to be assessed. This activity should be combined with more direct assessment measures, but does provide useful information on students’ self-perception of their achievement of learning outcomes.

Keep in mind the following quote:

Feedback is an objective description of a student’s performance intended to guide future performance. Unlike evaluation, which judges performance, feedback is the process of helping our students assess their performance, identify areas where they are right on target and provide them tips on what they can do in the future to improve in areas that need correcting.
– W. Fred Miser


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Waag Society.

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