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Definition              Why use Rubrics?               Why Not?               Examples        Types of Rubrics 

Rubric to Assess Other Rubrics                References  (with useful explanations by Bonnie Mullinix)

A 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.    .

 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. For example, a English paper might be assessed on its use of sources, the quality of the academic argument, and its use of English (among other criteria).  A department's strategic plan might be assessed using a rubric that included the clarity of its learning goals for students, the adequacy of staffing plans, the adequacy of plans for advising, and other criteria.

  • To let those who are producing work ("authors") know in advance what criteria judge or judges 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.  If a rubric is applied to program review, a panel of visiting experts could use the same rubric to assess the program's performance.

  • 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.  For example, imagine an academic department trying to develop skills A-G among their students.  One first year course focuses on teaching goals A, B, and D, while another first year course teaches A, C, and E.  One second year course is trying to deepen skill B while introducing skill E. And so on. If faculty use the same rubrics and then pool data (which can be done with Flashlight Online), the department can monitor student progress as they work toward graduation. It's a far more informative way to assess student progress and guide changes in the curriculum than to monitor student GPAs: faculty can see which skills are developing as hoped, and where there are systemic problems in teaching and learning.

In what circumstances should one not use rubrics, or be cautious about their use?

  • Rubrics apply the same, preset criteria to each piece of work being assessed.  It may not be appropriate to use rubrics if an assessor were to say of two different pieces of work. "They have absolutely nothing in common but they are each excellent, in different ways." 

  • Rubrics are ordinarily created in advance, in order to let authors know in advance how their work will be judged. But that's not always appropriate. Sometimes judges prefer to create criteria inductively, after seeing the work.  In those instances, it may still be appropriate to create the rubric as the works are being judged. The rubric would then be used to help assure that the works are being judged consistently and to communicate the reasoning to the authors.

To give you a better idea of what rubrics are and what you can do with them, this web page includes three rubrics of increasing complexity.  All three of the following examples are purely conceptual. Rubrics sometimes also include associated examples of work that typify each stage. For additional examples of scoring sheets in various disciples, see Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson, Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment (Jossey-Bass, 1998).

Stephen C. Ehrmann.
This page draws substantially on the work of Barbara Walvoord, University of Notre Dame


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