A rubric, or “a matrix that provides levels of achievement for a set of criteria” (Howell, 2014), is a common tool for assessing open-response or creative work (writing, presentations, performances, etc.). To use rubrics effectively, instructors should understand their benefits, the types and uses of rubrics, and their limitations.
Benefits of Rubrics
The criteria identified in the matrix differs with the subject matter, the nature of the assignment, and learning objectives, but all rubrics serve three purposes.
- Rubrics help instructors identify standards for achievement. The process of creating a rubric leads instructors to think through, label, and determine grading weight on the major aspects of any assignment. This work can help instructors better align assignments to learning objectives.
- Rubrics communicate expectations to students as well as others who assist with grading (e.g., teaching assistants) or who teach the same or similar classes. Students report that rubrics clarify instructors’ expectations and grading standards, helping them submit work that better matches the assignment requirements (Treme, 2017). This may explain why students can perform better when they are given rubrics (Howell, 2014).
- Rubrics facilitate more consistent and objective grading. For instance, using rubrics in grading has been shown to reduce grade inflation (White, 2018). Relatedly, using rubrics can reduce the time spent grading, since they streamline or eliminate many areas of deliberation in grading (Stevens and Levi, 2013).
Types of Rubrics
There are two basic types of rubrics. Holistic rubrics provide an overall description of work at various levels of achievement. For instance, separate paragraphs might describe “A,” “B”, “C,” and “D” -level papers. A holistic rubric might help instructors communicate the interrelationships of the elements of an assignment. For instance, students should understand that a fully persuasive research paper not only has strong argument and evidence but is also free of writing errors. These rubrics offer structure but also afford flexibility and judgment in grading.
Holistic Rubric Template
This paragraph describes what an A-level submission looks like overall.
This paragraph describes what a B-level submission looks like overall.
This paragraph describes what a C-level submission looks like overall.
This paragraph describes what a D-level submission looks like overall.
Analytic rubrics provide more detailed descriptions of achievement levels of distinct components of the assignment. For instance, the components of thesis, evidence, coherence, and writing mechanics might each be described with two to three sentences at each of the achievement levels. Such rubrics help instructors and students isolate discrete skills and performance. These rubrics limit the grader’s discretion and potentially offer greater consistency.
Analytic Rubric Template
|Description of excellent work on component 1||Description of good work on component 1||Etc.||Etc.|
|Description of excellent work on component 2||Etc.|
Whether designing a holistic or analytic rubric, the descriptions of student achievement levels should incorporate common student mistakes. This saves time as it reduces the need for long-hand feedback that is time-consuming and often hard for students to read (Stevens and Levi, 2013). For either type of rubric, the achievement level may be indicated with evaluative shorthand (e.g., Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor) or grade labels (A, B, C, D). In many cases, rubrics also provide the point totals possible with overall level (holistic) or each component (analytic).
Developing a rubric requires identifying and weighing the different elements of an assignment. The relative weight given to any category should reflect the learning objectives. For instance, if the learning objectives focus on interpreting and using evidence, the weight of the grade should not fall on rudimentary skills, like grammar and syntax. At the same time, rubrics can help instructors articulate and implement developmental goals. For example, using the same elements for two or more iterations of an assignment, the rubric for an earlier submission can place more weight on writing mechanics, while more weight can be placed on higher-order skills for a later submission.
Rubrics can be used as summative or formative assessment. Used as summative assessment, rubrics give concrete rationale for the grade that students receive. Used as formative assessment, rubrics help both instructors and students monitor the areas in which students are succeeding and struggling. For best use of rubrics as formative assessment, grading should be accompanied by clear, improvement-oriented feedback (Wylie et al., 2013). Additionally, instructors can require students to use the rubric as a checklist that they turn in with their work. This may help students better monitor the quality of their work before submitting it (Treme, 2017).
Technology can aid in developing and using rubrics. Canvas provides a rubric generator function that gives options for assigning point value, adding comments, and describing criteria for the assignment. To access it, go to the “assignments” page, click on the assignment, and select “add rubric.” A technologically-developed rubric like those in Canvas ensures greater consistency in assigning grades (Moyer, 2015).
No rubric is a complete substitute for reasoned judgment. While instructors strive to remove arbitrariness in grading, expert discernment is always an ingredient in assessment. Despite their air of objectivity, rubrics involve significant subjectivity—for instance, in the decisions about the relative weight or the descriptions of elements of student work. Nor are rubrics a “silver bullet” for achieving high academic performance. Baseline knowledge and prior academic performance are still greater factors in student achievement (Howell, 2014: 406). Nonetheless, rubrics are a useful tool for promoting consistency, transparency, and objectivity and can have positive outcomes for instructors and students.
Howell, R. J. (2014). Grading rubrics: Hoopla or help? Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51(4): 400-410.
Kryder, L. G. (2003). Grading for speed, consistency, and accuracy. Business Communications Quarterly, 66(1): 90-93.
Moyer, Adam C., William A. Young II, Gary R. Weckman, Red C. Martin, and Ken W. Cutright. “Rubrics on the Fly: Improving Efficiency and Consistency with a Rapid Grading and Feedback System.” Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, 4, no. 2 (2015): 6-29.
Stevens, D., & Levi, A. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: an assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning (Second edition.). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus.
Treme, Julianne. “An Op-Ed Grading Rubric: Improving Student Output and Professor Happiness.” NACTA Journal, 61, no. 2 (2017): 181-183.
White, Krista Alaine, and Ella Thomas Heitzler. “Effects of Increased Evaluation Objectivity on Grade Inflation: Precise Grading Rubrics and Rigorously Developed Tests.” Nurse Educator, 43, no. 2 (2018): 73-77.
Wylie, Caroline and Christine Lyon. “Using the Formative Rubrics, Reflection and Observation Tools to Support Professional Reflection on Practice.” Formative Assessment for Teachers and Students (2013).