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Rubrics:  What, How, and When

Rubrics are an assessment tool that provide a method to evaluate authentic learning.  Rubrics do more than assess students, they provide important information required to improve performance.  Complex learning cannot be assessed or evaluated using a single measure.  A rubric by definition is a code or set of codes designed to govern action.  In education they are a tool for evaluating complex performance.  Instead of mysteriously grading a set of discussion questions or an oral report, a rubric will promote intentional learning by identifying important aspects of the performance or written assignment.  Rubrics can be a great tool but they do not fit every situation and when used improperly can become a barrier to good instruction.

How to evaluate students on activities that use the Internet? How to grade a subjective written assignment?  How to evaluate a oral report or presentation? Make sure your rubric includes the following:

  • Elements:  Components to be graded in the assignment.  The aspects of the assignment considered important.  Elements should be single components--try not to group items because it is hard to rank diverse elements on one scale. 
  • Ratings:  Description of the various levels of performance.  Distinct, comprehensive, descriptive rankings for the expected performance.
  • Clarity:  Rubrics must make a complex task more easily understood by the individuals who have to complete the task.

Rubrics provide direction needed by students before their final activity is given to the teacher for grading.  Grades should not be a mystery.  While they cannot always be objective and must include some subjective quality determination by the teacher, the rubric lays out the general expectations for each grade on a given assignment.  Students tend to do much better when the expectations are clearly stated.  The rubric gives teachers the opportunity to think about requirements and clearly lay out for students the expectations for each grade awarded.  

Rubrics are intended to improve performance on a complex activity.  To do this they must be clear in expectations and convey the complexity of the task.  Be sure that all who use the rubric share a common understating of the terminology.  Input into the creation of the rubric will usually assure the common vocabulary used in it.  Be careful when taking rubrics and turning them into grades.  Rubrics are intended to provide clarity in defining the task and rich feedback for the learner.  They were not intended to directly equate to the 100 point traditional grading scale.  Combining elements does not consider importance to the whole.  Rubrics were developed as a method to foster performance improvement.

Rubric creation is a complex task.  There is no rubric that will work for everything.  Different people will develop different rubrics for the same task depending on their experiences. A rubric is effective to the extent that it helps learners focus on the important elements of a task and provides information so that they are focused on the learning outcomes of the task. 

Creating Good Rubrics

  • Develop them collaboratively with the learners
  • Encourage learners to use the rubric as they are completing the task
  • Encourage dialog on the rubric to be sure that it provides the necessary clarity
  • View the rubric as a feedback method rather than a evaluative device.  Reality says that the rubric is an evaluation but if it is to strengthen learning the emphasis needs to be on feedback and assessment of learning not A, B, C, etc.
  • Use rubrics to assess yourself in what you do.  They will force you to examine the elements of your job and require you to give feedback which will lead to improvement if the rubric is correctly constructed.  You are likely to identify additional ways to improve what you do.

Rubrics are another assessment method that help teachers arrive at an evaluation of a learner.  They are NOT the only assessment method.  They lend themselves to complex tasks with multiple steps.  They provide structure, guidance, and feedback to the learner.

Some of the sites below provide examples of rubrics--great, good, and needs work.  Explore and see if you think the rubric will lead to improved learning.  After all, everything done in a classroom should improve the learning for the students.

The sites below offer some examples and some discussion of the purpose of rubrics.  

Rubrics--Check Them Out

The following sites represent a mixture of rubric information from examples to philosophy.  


Jonassen, David, Peck, Kyle, and Wilson, Brent.  Learning with Technology:  A Constructivist Perspective.  Merrill:  Columbus, Ohio, 1999, p.221-231.

This page was updated on:  04/10/02