A rubric is a valuable and versatile assessment tool that clearly defines the criteria and performance levels by which student work will be evaluated.
By communicating and applying a coherent set of criteria and performance level descriptors, rubrics can be used to evaluate or provide feedback on student work in relation to an intended learning outcome (or set of outcomes).
Rubrics are commonly used to evaluate both products (e.g., essays, reports, created objects) and processes (e.g., work habits, communication, skills). Rubrics are useful when instructors want to evaluate and provide feedback on the quality of student work beyond what might be captured in a checklist or rating scale (see Related Assessment Tools).
Rubrics can be generic and used across related tasks such as writing or problem solving. Rubrics can also be task-specific and provide performance quality feedback on specific products or skills. In most cases, rubrics should be provided to students in advance, or co-constructed with students, so that they see how they will be evaluated. Some task-specific rubrics, however, may contain the answers to a problem or list facts/concepts students may need to include, so these may not be appropriate to share prior to assignment submission. This can limit their effectiveness for formative assessment.
Rubrics come in many shapes and sizes! In general, most rubrics can be divided into three categories—holistic, analytic, and single-point—though there is ample room for variation within each.
A holistic rubric describes a performance or product by applying all criteria at the same time and enabling an overall assessment. Holistic rubrics are useful, for example:
|Organization enhances and showcases the main idea. The writer’s voice is compelling and engaging. Sentences are sophisticated with strong, varied sentence structure that invites expressive reading.||Organization is smooth with only a few issues. The writer’s voice attempts to address the topic and purpose in an engaging way but is inconsistent in delivery.||Some structure exists but the flow of ideas is difficult to follow. The writer’s voice is difficult to identify although an attempt is present.||Organization cannot be identified and lacks a sense of direction. The writer's voice seems indifferent, uninvolved or distanced from the topic or purpose. Sentence structure is choppy, incomplete, rambling or awkward.|
An analytic rubric separates the assessment into multiple criteria and describes the performance quality of each criterion separately, with clearly differentiated descriptors at each level. Analytic rubrics are useful, for example:
|Organization||Organization enhances and showcases the main idea.||Organization is smooth with only a few issues.||Some structure exists but the flow of ideas is difficult to follow.||Organization cannot be identified and lacks a sense of direction.|
|Voice||The writer's voice is compelling and engaging in delivering the purpose and topic of the piece.||The writer's voice attempts to address the topic and purpose in an engaging way but is inconsistent in delivery.||The writer’s voice is difficult to identify although an attempt is present.||The writer's voice seems indifferent, uninvolved or distanced from the topic or purpose.|
|Sentence Fluency||Sentences are sophisticated with strong, varied sentence structure that invites expressive reading.||Sentences are varied, structurally correct and flow well.||Sentence structure is usually correct but sentences do not flow.||Sentence structure is choppy, incomplete, rambling or awkward.|
A single point rubric is like an analytic rubric in that it identifies discrete assessment criteria; however, it only describes the performance quality at one level, typically proficiency. Single point rubrics are especially useful, for example:
Areas that Need Work
Standards for This Performance
Evidence of Exceeding Standards
Organization is smooth with only a few issues.
The writer's voice attempts to address the topic and purpose in an engaging way but is inconsistent in delivery.
Sentences are varied, structurally correct and flow well.
Just as rubrics come in many shapes and sizes, there are different ways to create an effective rubric. Here are some things to consider:
Most rubrics contain two core elements: assessment criteria and performance-level descriptors.
There are some common pitfalls that can get in the way of creating an effective rubric. Try to avoid, for example:
A rubric is different from other assessment tools such as checklists and rating scales.
A checklist is a list of specific criteria which are assessed as present or absent, not by level of quality. Use a checklist when the presence of a specific attribute or characteristic is important or there is a clear right/wrong answer. Here is a sample checklist:
|Includes a topic sentence|
|Includes three to five sentences|
|Includes a concluding sentence|
|All sentences start with a capital letter|
|All sentences end with a period|
A rating scale is a list of specific criteria which are assessed by rating the degree to which the criteria is displayed, such as always-never, not by level of quality. Use a rating scale when the frequency of demonstrating an attribute or characteristic is important. Here is a sample rating scale:
|Sentence start with a capital letter|
|Sentences ends with a period|
|Sentences are on topic|
|Sentences follow the paragraph structure|
This guide is derived in part from information provided in the following publications:
Brookhart, S. M. (2013). How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Gonzalez, J. (2014, May 1). Know Your Terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics. Cult of Pedagogy.
Stevens, D. D. & Levi, A. J. (2013). Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning. (2nd Edition). Stylus Publishing.
Watch the video below for an example of the development of a real rubric used in a History course.
There are many benefits to using rubrics as part of assessment practices—for both students and instructors. Here is a sampling...
Keep in mind that whatever rubric you create, it may never be perfect. As you use the rubric in your course, you will notice that a descriptor may need to be refined, criteria may be combined, separated, or cut entirely, performance levels might be assigned more (or less) precise weights, etc.
The language you use in a rubric should be considered carefully. For example, try to use “positive” language in your performance level descriptors. In other words, describe what a student did do to achieve a particular level, rather than what they didn’t do. The learner can look to the next level up in the rubric to see how they can improve. Remember also that the rubric is being used to assess learning as demonstrated in a particular product or performance. It is not the student that is being evaluated, it’s the work that they submitted which is being evaluated.
A rubric is a living document that will probably (likely) change over time. Here are some strategies to make the most of your rubrics and keep them sharp, like any good tool:
Below are some examples of effective rubrics. Have a rubric you would like to share? Email email@example.com and let us know. We can post it here!
We now have some sample rubrics built right into the rubrics tool in D2L. Most are adapted from the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics. If you would like an adapted copy of one of these rubrics in your course, please email Monique Brewer in eLearning.