Why Rubrics?

What's All the Hype?

The role of assessment in teaching happens to be a hot issue in education today. This has led to an increasing interest in "performance-based education." Performance-based education poses a challenge for teachers to design instruction that is task oriented. The trend is based on the premise that learning needs to be connected to the lives of the students through relevant tasks that focus on students' ability to use their knowledge and skills in meaningful ways. In this case, performance-based tasks require performance-based assessments in which the actual student performance is assessed through a product, such as a completed project or work that demonstrates levels of task achievement. At times, performance-based assessment has been used interchangeably with "authentic assessment" and "alternative assessment." In all cases, performance-based assessment has led to the use of a variety of alternative ways of evaluating student progress ( journals, checklists, portfolios, projects, rubrics, etc.) as compared to more traditional methods of measurement (paper and pencil testing). For the purpose of this tutorial, the use of rubrics will be explored as a viable means of evaluating students' performances.

Student Performance and Assessment

Student performances can be defined as targeted tasks that lead to a product or overall learning outcome. Products can include a wide range of student works that target specific skills. Some examples include communication skills such as demonstrated in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, or psychomotor skills requiring physical abilities to perform a given task. Target tasks can also include behavior expectations targeting complex tasks that students are expected to achieve. Using rubrics is one way that teachers can evaluate or assess student performance or proficiency in any given task as it relates to a final product or learning outcome. Thus, rubrics can provide valuable information about the degree to which a student has achieved a defined learning outcome based on specific criteria that defined the framework for evaluation.

What are Rubrics?

Rubrics are performance-based assessments that evaluate student performance on any given task or set of tasks that ultimately leads to a final product, or learning outcome. Rubrics use specific criteria as a basis for evaluating or assessing student performances as indicated in narrative descriptions that are separated into levels of possible performance related to a given task. Starting with the highest level and progressing to the lowest, these levels of performance are used to assess the defined set of tasks as they relate to a final product or behavior. Each level describes degrees of proficiency and each level is assigned a value that rates the degree of proficiency or student performance. Rating scales are used; they can be numerical, qualitative, or a combination of numerical and qualitative.

Rating scales can be either holistic or analytical. Holistic scales offer several dimensions together while analytical scales offer a separate scale for various dimensions.

Holistic scoring is more global and does little to separate the tasks in any given product, but rather views the final product as a set of interrelated tasks contributing to the whole. Anchor points are used to assign value to descriptions of products or performances that contribute to the whole. Holistic scoring proves to be efficient and quick. One score provides a overall impression of ability on any given product or work. It is most commonly used with writing products, but can be used just as effectively with other subject areas. The disadvantage of holistic scoring is that it does not provide detailed information about student performance in specific areas of content or skill.

Analytic scoring breaks down the objective or final product into component parts and each part is scored independently. In this case, the total score is the sum of the rating for all of the parts that are being evaluated. When using analytic scoring, it is necessary to treat each component or partt as separate to avoid bias toward the whole product.

There are occasions when there are two raters who score students' work. This is to assure reliability in results. If there is a wide discrepancy among the scores, then raters are obliged to discuss why they gave certain ratings. In some cases, a third rater is called in to settle any discrepancy. This practice is mostly used with high stake testing such as state mandated testing.

Whether holistic scales or analytical scales are used, the important factors in developing effective rubrics is the use of clear criteria that will be used to rate a student's work and that the performance being evaluated is directly observable. More importantly, students should be informed as to what criteria they are being held accountable.

An example of a holistic scale is as follows:

Holistic Scoring Guide - Mathematical Equations

Score Level
4 Shows full understanding of mathematical concepts with no computational errors; executes algorithms for equations completely and correctly.
3 Shows nearly complete understanding of concepts and principles with few or minor computational errors; executes algorithms correctly.
2 Show some understanding of concepts and principles with serious computational errors that affect the successful completion of algorithms.
1 Show very little, if not limited understanding of concepts with major computational errors; failure to execute algorithms.

For examples of an analytical scale, click on:



How to Develop a Rubric

1. First, teachers need to define the learning outcome or objective that students are expected to achieve. From that point, begin to work backwards defining possible criteria or performance levels that students would possibly demonstrate. This levels would range from the possible highest performance to the lowest performance that can be expected from students on any given task and would provide descriptions of performances for each level. Each level should be directly observable.

2. To determine how to describe each level, use "anchor products" that represent various performances that can be evaluated as high quality, average, and low. Have at least three samples of each level to make such judgements. Use these samples to evaluate all of the students products.

3. Scores (either numerical or qualitative, or a combination of both) can then be assigned for each level from highest to lowest, or vice versa.

4. Once each level is determined with rating scales assigned, share the descriptions with the students and ask for feedback so that each level is clearly understood by students. It is imperative that students clearly understand how they are being evaluated and what each level represents in relation to scores assigned. This really helps students to understand the standards that they are being held accountable to achieve. It is also a great tool for helping students self diagnose strengths and weaknesses so that they become part of the "planning for instruction" process.

For an example of a rubric that includes a student's evaluation along with a teacher's evaluation, click on:


5. Provide examples of students work (kept anonymous) that illustrate each performance level. Using a rubric, explain to students what each performance level means in relation to the rubric and the rating scales used to evaluate the performances. Show students how each example meets the criteria listed for each level of performance. Give students the opportunity to rate some samples of works that would be scored using a rubric.

6. The scoring system should be objective and consistent. The tasks should be appropriate to students' abilities to avoid or minimize scoring error. Be practical when designing the scoring system. No more than six dimensions should be used for a single final product. For rubrics that define a "set of tasks" to be performed, there should be no more than ten dimensions. Descriptions within each dimension should also be clear enough for students to focus on what is expected. Fewer dimensions are better than more in most cases when developing rubrics.

7. Our Platinum Membership is one of the most powerful on-line tools for creating rubrics. We offer 50+ preformatted rubrics that you can customize. You can design every aspect with our user-friendly rubric maker.

To create your own rubric, click on:


The Bottom Line

Contemporary forms of assessment provide effective links to instruction. Performance-based assessment is authentic and grounded in the real world in which students live. It connects teaching and learning in such a way that learning occurs simultaneously as students are completing the assessment. Rubrics serve an important role in creating assessment that is student-centered and standards driven. As educators, we are responsible to create assessment measures that will help students work toward higher levels of achievement!

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