Rubrics: The basics

Different conceptions may come to mind when one hears the word rubric. This article draws on the definition of the Great Schools Partnership:

A rubric is typically an evaluation tool or set of guidelines used to promote the consistent application of learning expectations, learning objectives, or learning standards in the classroom, or to measure their attainment against a consistent set of criteria. In instructional settings, rubrics clearly define academic expectations for students and help to ensure consistency in the evaluation of academic work from student to student, assignment to assignment, or course to course. Rubrics are also used as scoring instruments to determine grades or the degree to which learning standards have been demonstrated or attained by students. (para. 1)

Rubrics can support students’ learning in a variety of ways. As Brookhart, Stevens and Levi, and Suskie describe, rubrics can:

  • Communicate instructor’s expectations: Students will thus understand what to do.

  • Help focus on key criteria: Developing a rubric means having to articulate what learning (i.e., knowledge, skills, values) students must demonstrate to successfully complete an assignment.

  • Make providing feedback more efficient: Simply circling or checking off the appropriate categories is more efficient than writing (often repetitive) comments and still provides students with feedback. You can, of course, choose to add specific feedback comments where applicable.

  • Facilitate inter-rater reliability: Explicit assessment criteria can increase consistency among graders.

  • Put students in charge of their own learning: Students can use the assessment criteria for self-assessment of their work—to see if it meets the stated expectations—and revise their work as necessary prior to submission.

Well-designed rubrics can promote equitable pedagogical practices, for example:

Rubrics that are carefully aligned with learning outcomes and include student input limit the impact of unconscious bias in the qualitative assessment of learning (Inoue, 2019; Singer-Freeman & Bastone, 2016, 2021). Rubrics help evaluators apply similar standards across multiple individuals and provide a lasting record of assessments, allowing outcome audits across classes or instructors. Rubrics also focus evaluators’ attention on specific concepts, reducing the bias that occurs when evaluators assess nonessential elements of a piece of work.

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