Begin with the end in mind: Creating and using rubrics

Rubric clipart.jpg

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Participants will design a student rubric for a project in their classroom, using their learning objectives to guide their assessment.

“We must carefully define the learning we are targeting and ensure that the academic portion of the grade deliberately assesses student progress toward it.” (Winger)

What are we doing today?

Here is a job for you to do. It is a common, everyday task. Read the instructions carefully, and see if you can make sense of what you are supposed to do!


Did you figure out what job you are doing? Was it difficult for you to understand what to do when you didn't know what the task was? Look at the end of this lesson to see what the job is, then go back are reread the task description now that you know what you are doing. Easier? Of course.

It is much the same with educational lessons. Often times we, as the educator, know exactly what it is we want to accomplish during a lesson. However, the students don't have this knowledge, unless we make that very clear to them from the beginning. One way to make objectives clear to students is through the use of rubrics.

What is a rubric?

A rubric is simply “a set of scoring guidelines for evaluating student work. Rubrics answer the questions:

  • By what criteria should performance be judged and discriminated?
  • Where should we look and what should we look for to judge performance success?
  • How should the different levels of quality, proficiency, or understanding be distinguished from one another?” (Wiggins, p 173)

Rubrics generally list a set of objectives or traits that the finished assignment should contain. Attached to each of these traits would be a scoring scale and a set of descriptors for several levels of performance or quality. These levels of quality may be written as different ratings (e.g., Excellent, Good, Needs Improvement) or as numerical scores (e.g., 4, 3, 2, 1) which are then added up to form a total score which then is associated with a grade (e.g., A, B, C, etc).

Why use rubrics?

Goodrich quotes a student who said he didn't much care for rubrics because "if you get something wrong, your teacher can prove you knew what you were supposed to do." Reason enough to give rubrics a closer look! According to Goodrich (UEN site):

  1. They help students and teachers define "quality."
  2. When students use rubrics regularly to judge their own work, they begin to accept more responsibility for the end product. It cuts down on the "am I done yet?" questions. As students revise their work to match the expectations of the rubric, this uses the rubric as a means of formative assessment.
  3. If students can read the rubric before beginning an assignment and know what the expectations are, this greatly enhances their ability to reach those expectations. With a rubric they know the path to success; they know what has to be done.
  4. Rubrics reduce the time teachers spend grading student work and makes it easier for teachers to explain to students why they got the grade they did and what they can do to improve.

How do I create a good rubric?

Several websites exist for the quick creation of a rubric for your next project. Sometimes you might be able to find a rubric that someone else has posted that will fit your needs. Of course, it is not always possible to find an appropriate existing rubric to use or modify. To create your own rubric, follow these steps (Goodrich, UEN site):

  1. List the criteria that will be used in assessing performance. The criteria you use should be related to the learning outcome(s) that you are assessing. For example, a musical performance might be rated for intonation, rhythmic accuracy, and tone quality and an oral presentation might be rated for content, organization, delivery and language. Be sure that your criteria are explicit. "Neatness" would not be a good criterion because the term "neat" is not explicit enough. What is neatness?You may want to look at some actual examples of student work to see if you have omitted any important criteria.
  2. Determine your performance levels. Examples of performance levels may be:
    1. Descriptors (In Progress, Basic, Proficient, Advanced)
    2. Numbers (1,2,3,4)
  3. Write a description for each performance level.Describe the different levels of performance that match each criterion. You may want to start with the best and worst levels of quality, and then fill in the middle levels based on your knowledge of common problems. It may be helpful to sort examples of actual student work into three piles: the very best, the poorest and those in between. Try to articulate what makes the good assignments good and the poor assignments poor.
  4. After use, evaluate and revise rubric as needed.

Here are some examples:



Your Turn

Consider an assignment you have recently done in your classroom.

  • Using the guidelines given above, how could you take that assignment and create a rubric for it?
  • How could you use this rubric in a formative manner to improve instruction?

One popular site for creating rubrics is Rubistar. This is a free site for educational rubrics of all kinds. After logging in, go to the menu bar and select "create rubric" to begin. Rubistar website

The task in the opening activity is doing laundry!

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