Rubrics are scoring guides or specific pre-established performance criteria in which each level of performance is described to contrast it with performance at other levels.
- Provide feedback and grade student work.
- Help students understand the targets for their learning.
- Help students learn standards of quality for a particular assignment.
- Help students make dependable judgments about their own work that can inform improvement.
There are two types of rubrics – analytic and holistic. An analytic rubric is used to assess more than one content area at different levels of performance. A holistic rubric targets a single area and is used to assess a whole work or product considering multiple factors.
Rubrics contain three essential features: evaluation criteria, quality definitions, and a scoring strategy. They generally exist as tables comprising a description of the task being evaluated, row headings outlining the criteria being evaluated, column headings identifying the different levels of performance, and a description of the level of performance in the boxes of the table.
When writing a rubric, an instructor or teaching team should set the scale, define the ratings, and develop descriptions of what performance looks like at each level.
Examples of three scales:
- Weak, Satisfactory, Strong
- Beginning, Intermediate, High
- Weak, Average, Excellent
- Developing, Competent, Exemplary
- Low Mastery, Average Mastery, High Mastery
Examples of four scales:
- Unacceptable, Marginal, Proficient, Distinguished
- Beginning, Developing, Accomplished, Exemplary
- Needs Improvement, Satisfactory, Good, Accomplished
- Emerging, Progressing, Partial Mastery, Mastery
- Inadequate, Needs Improvement, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations
- Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent
Examples of five scales:
- Poor, Minimal, Sufficient, Above Average, Excellent
- Novice, Intermediate, Proficient, Distinguished, Master
- Unacceptable, Poor, Satisfactory, Good, Excellent
Student Perceptions of Rubrics
Studies of students’ responses to rubric use suggest that graduate and undergraduate students value rubrics because they clarify the targets for their work, allow them to regulate their progress, and make grades or marks transparent and fair.
Rubrics enable them to engage in important processes, including identifying critical issues in an assignment and, thereby, reducing uncertainty and doing more meaningful work, determining the amount of effort needed for an assignment, evaluating their own performances in order to get immediate feedback, especially on weaknesses, estimating their grades prior to the submission of assignments and focusing their efforts so as to improve performance on subsequent assignments.
Tip based on perceptions: Provide rubrics with the assignment description, as well as an example of a graded or evaluated work.
Faculty Perceptions on Rubrics
In a review of 20 studies on rubrics, three studies report positive instructor perceptions of rubrics as scoring guides. In these cases, rubrics provided an objective basis for evaluation.
One striking difference between students’ and instructors’ perceptions of rubric use is related to their perceptions of the purposes of rubrics. Students frequently referred to them as serving the purposes of learning and achievement, while instructors focused almost exclusively on the role of a rubric in quickly, objectively and accurately assigning grades. Instructors’ limited conception of the purpose of a rubric might contribute to their unwillingness to use them.
Rubrics require quite a bit of time on the part of the instructor or teaching team to develop.
The types of reliability that are most often considered in classroom assessment and in rubric development involve rater reliability. Reliability refers to the consistency of scores that are assigned by two independent raters (inter‐rater reliability) and by the same rater at different points in time (intra‐rater reliability).
The literature most frequently recommends two approaches to inter‐rater reliability: consensus and consistency. While consensus (agreement) measures if raters assign the same score, consistency provides a measure of correlation between the scores of raters.
Several studies have shown that rubrics can allow instructors and students to reliably assess performance.
Of the four papers found that discuss the validity of the rubrics used in research, three focused on the appropriateness of the language and content of a rubric for the population of students being assessed. The language used in rubrics is considered to be one of the most challenging aspects of its design.
As with any form of assessment, the clarity of the language in a rubric is a matter of validity because an ambiguous rubric cannot be accurately or consistently interpreted by instructors, students or scorers.
Teaching tips from reliability research: Scorer training is the most important factor for achieving reliable and valid large scale assessments. Before using a rubric, a teaching team should practice grading assignments together to ensure rubric clarity.