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Section 6.4: Creating Rubrics to Evaluate Student Work

“A rubric is a tool used to assess or guide a student’s performance on a given task in a given context given certain standards” (Varvel, 2011,para. 1). Using rubrics is an evaluation approach used to judge the quality of performance (Morrison, Ross, Kemp, 2004). “A rubric is intended to give a more descriptive, holistic characterization of the quality of students’ work” (p. 290). Rubrics place emphasis on explicit descriptions of what a student will do, know, and to what degree. Rubrics can be used to provide feedback regarding various assignments such as case studies, group projects, papers, reflections, participation expectations, presentations, and performances.
A well constructed rubric identifies (Carnegie Mellon, 2001):

  1. Criteria: the aspects of performance (e.g., argument, evidence, clarity) that will be assessed
  2. Descriptors: the characteristics associated with each dimension (e.g., argument is demonstrable and original, evidence is diverse and compelling)
  3. Performance levels: a rating scale that identifies students’ level of mastery within each criterion

Benefits of Rubrics

Rubrics can offer many benefits; however, there are some disadvantages to using rubrics. Thus, consideration should be used as the online instructor develops a rubric for each activity. Below is a chart outlining advantages and disadvantages of rubrics (Carnegie Mellon, “Benefitting from Rubrics”; ION, “Benefits of a Rubric”):

Advantages of Using Rubrics

For Instructors:

  1. Rubrics can reduce time spent grading by allowing instructors to refer to a substantive description without writing long comments.
  2. Rubrics can help instructors more clearly identify strengths and weaknesses across an entire class and adjust their instruction appropriately.
  3. Rubrics can be impartial.
    1. Scoring can be prescribed by the rubric and not the instructor’s predispositions towards students.
  4. Rubrics allow consistent assessment
    1. Reproducible scoring by a single individual is enhanced.
    2. Reproducible scoring by multiple individuals can be enhanced with training.
    3. Greater precision and reliability among scored assessments.
  5. Rubrics can reduce the uncertainty which can accompany grading, thus discouraging complaints about grades.
  6. Most assessments do not have an answer key
    1. Rubrics can provide that key.
  7. Rubrics allow instructors to organize and clarify their thoughts.
    1. They tell what is important enough to assess.
    2. They allow comparison of lesson objectives to what is assessed.
    3. Instruction can be redesigned to meet objectives with assessed items.
  8. Rubrics can help instructors teach.
    1. They focus instructors on what they intend to assess.
    2. They allow educators to organize their thoughts.
    3. They can provide a scaffold with which the students can learn.

For Students:

  1. They allow for better peer feedback on student graded work.
    1. They allow more accurate peer and self-assessment by students.
  2. Rubrics document and communicate grading procedures.
    1. Students can compare their assignment to the rubric to see why they received their grade.
  3. Students can use rubrics as a guide to completing an assignment. They help students with the learning process and can increase the quality of student work.
  4. Non-scoring rubrics can encourage students to self-assess performance.

Disadvantages of Using Rubrics

  1. Rubrics may not fully convey all information instructor wants students to know. If educators use the rubric to tell students what to put in an assignment, then that may be all they put. It may also be all that they learn. Multiple assessments are useful ways around this disadvantage, as well as directed instruction or discussion coupled with the assignment.
  2. They may limit imagination if students feel compelled to complete the assignment strictly as outlined in the rubric. List creativity as a criteria if you wish students to be more adventuresome in their assignments.
  3. Rubrics may lead to anxiety if they include too many criteria. Students may feel that there is just too much involved in the assignment. Good rubrics keep it simple.
  4. Reliability can be a factor as more individuals use the rubric. Especially when used for peer assessment among untrained users, the reproducibility and reliability will be reduced.
  5. They take time to develop, test, evaluate, and update.