Grading with Rubrics: Best Practices

audience segmentation

Written by SM Pack

July 31, 2018

What is a rubric?
A rubric is a coherent set of criteria for students’ work that includes descriptions of performance quality on the criteria. This idea may sound simple, but unfortunately, the definition of rubric is rarely demonstrated in practice.

It should be clear from the definition that rubrics have two major aspects: coherent sets of criteria and descriptions of levels of performance for those criteria.

Effective rubrics have appropriate criteria and well-written descriptions of performance. The idea behind the rubric is to match the performance to the description rather than judge it. Thus, rubrics are as good or bad as the criteria selected and the descriptions of the levels of performance under each.

What is the purpose of rubrics?
Like any other evaluation tool, rubrics are useful for certain purposes and not for others. The main purpose of rubrics is to assess performances. For some performances, you observe the student in the process of doing something, like using an electric drill or discussing an issue. For other performances, you observe the product that is the result of the student’s work, like a finished bookshelf or a written report.

State standards, curriculum, and instructional goals and objectives are the sources for types of performances your students should be able to do. When the intended learning outcomes are best indicated by performances—things students would do, make, say, or write—then rubrics are the best way to assess them. Notice that the performances themselves are not learning outcomes; they are indicators of learning outcomes.

EXAMPLE: A cosmetology student successfully completes their first bleach service despite being booked for a color service.

INDICATOR: The student is competent in understanding chemical application and the importance of the process.

Instruction that does not work well with rubrics are questions with right or wrong answers. Test items or oral questions in class that have one clear correct answer are best assessed as right or wrong. However, even test items that have degrees of quality of performance, where you want to observe how appropriately, how completely, or how well a question was answered, can be assessed with rubrics.

Rubrics give structure to observations. Matching your observations of a student’s work to the descriptions in the rubric prevents the judgment that can occur in classroom evaluation situations. Instead of judging the performance, the rubric describes the performance, as noted in the beginning of this post. The resulting judgment of quality based on a rubric describes the performance that can be used for feedback and teaching. This is different from a judgment of quality from a score or a grade achieved without a rubric. Judgments without descriptions basically halt student interaction/learning in a classroom, which is detrimental to students in a technical environment that facilitate a hands-on learning approach.

Types of rubrics: Pros and Cons

Rubrics are usually categorized by two different aspects: One is whether the rubric treats the criteria one at a time or together. The other is whether the rubric is general and could be used with a family of similar tasks or is task-specific. See below for a simplified chart:


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