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Rubrics: The Basics

Ways to quantify the quality of your students' work, making grading more transparent to them.

The dictionary says . . .

The term rubric is derived from the Latin term rubrica that means, "red earth."  It came to refer to indications written in red ink within manuscripts of various forms during the middle ages.  Red markings within liturgical documents could indicate how a hymn was to be sung or a religious service was to be conducted.  In legal documents, text in red often indicated a heading in a code of law that led to rubric coming to mean any brief, authoritative rule. 


Why use a Rubric?

Why use rubrics?

  • To produce assessments that are far more descriptive than a single, holistic grade or judgment can be. Instead of merely saying that this was a "B- paper," the rubric-based assessment describes the quality of work on one or more criteria.

  • To let those who are producing work know in advance what criteria will apply to assessing that work

  • To provide a richer and more multidimensional description of the reasons for assigning a numerical score to a piece of work. 

  • To enable multiple judges to apply the same criteria to assessing work. For example, student work can be assessed by faculty, by other students and by working professionals in the discipline.  

  • To enable authors to elicit formative feedback (e.g., peer critique) for drafts of their work before final submission;

  • To help authors understand more clearly and completely what judges had to say about their work

  • To enable comparison of works across settings.


Scholarly definitions

Three cogent definitions:

"Rubrics can promote learning by offering clear performance targets to students for agreed upon results," R. D. Marzano, Assessing Student Outcomes: Performance Assessment Using Dimensions of Learning (1993)

"At its most basic a rubric is a scoring tool that divides an assignment into its component parts and objectives, and provides a detailed description of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable levels of performance for each part. Rubrics can be used to grade any assignment or task: research papers, book reviews, participation in discussions, laboratory work, portfolios, oral presentations, group work, and more."  Dannelle Stevens. Introduction to Rubrics. Teaching & Learning Books, 371.272 St471, Haselwood Basement

rubric is an explicit set of criteria used for assessing a particular type of work or performance.  A rubric usually also includes levels of potential achievement for each criterion, and sometimes also includes work or performance samples that typify each of those levels.  Levels of achievement are often given numerical scores.  A summary score for the work being assessed may be produced by adding the scores for each criterion. The rubric may also include space for the judge to describe the reasons for each judgment or to make suggestions for the author. (http://www.tltgroup.org/resources/flashlight/rubrics.htm)

You need rubrics if:

"You need rubrics if:
* You find yourself repeating the same comments on most student papers
* You worry that you’re grading the latest papers differently from the first
* You’re concerned about communicating the complexity of a semester-long assignment
* You question the consistency of your and your colleagues’ grading scales
* Grading is taking up far too much of your valuable time"

Dannelle Stevens. Intodruction to Rubrics

Should you adopt a rubric?

Two pros and a con from David Gooblar

"A good rubric will make clear to students what you expect of them."

"A rubric... can improve your teaching by forcing you to clarify your pedagogical goals."

"However, most rubrics do not speak a language that students understand." 


Before You Create Your Assessment Rubric

Plan and organize your course first, then generate your rubrics for assessment.  Duquesne University offers a rubric guide which includes a checklist and worksheet for creating effective rubrics.