Rubrics

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Rubrics serve as a tool to communicate with students information about expectations, learning objectives, and criteria for success in an assignment or task. Building a well-defined rubric takes time and effort, but there are significant returns on that investment. If you estimate time spent on explaining/re-explaining assignments in class, answering student questions about assignments outside of class, and attempting to assess work in which students clearly did not understand the assignment and/or your expectations, you can see how developing and implementing a rubric yields long-term savings in instructional time and benefits student learning for your current and future courses (Stevens & Levi, 2012) 

Creating rubrics requires careful consideration of course learning outcomes, how assignment objectives demonstrate student achievement of those outcomes, and criteria that help students build and demonstrate individual competence in those criteria. Rubrics can be a valuable tool in the course design landscape that works with other components to support and accurately measure student learning and provide data for further course development. 

Rubrics are especially useful when used in dialogue with students and other members of an instructional team. Working together to clarify criteria and identify further opportunities for growth supports students’ growth mindsets of power and agency over their performance, helps reduce opportunities for bias, and mediates student perceptions of arbitrary assessment (Feldman 2018). 

Types of rubrics 

There are several types of rubrics, each with its own unique approach to assessment. Each type serves a unique purpose in assessing student work, catering to different assessment contexts and preferences.  

Analytic rubric: 

An analytic rubric breaks down the assessment criteria into separate components, each with its own set of criteria and levels of performance. This type of rubric allows for a detailed assessment of different aspects of a student’s work. Performance descriptors that demonstrate progressively sophisticated levels of attainment (rather than describing deficits to a standard) are focused on attainable growth rather than just assigned points. 

Example of Use: An instructor assessing a research paper might use an analytic rubric to assess different components such as thesis clarity, organization, supporting evidence, writing style, and adherence to citation guidelines. Each component would have its own criteria and performance levels, providing a comprehensive assessment of the paper’s strengths and weaknesses.  

Holistic rubric: 

A holistic rubric assesses the overall quality of a student’s work without breaking it down into separate components. Instead of evaluating individual criteria, the instructor assigns a single score, or level, based on an overall impression of the work. Stevens and Levi (2012) refer to holistic “scoring guides” that describe the expected level of performance for each criterion with a simple score and comments on how the work achieves or progresses toward that level (p. 25). 

Example of Use: Rachel Fundator uses a simple holistic rubric to assess and provide feedback on student reflections. The reflection assignment in her course is for a student to “deeply consider and communicate their learning and growth.” The writing is personal in nature with each submission being unique to that student. She keeps the scoring format simple, utilizing a check-plus, check, and check-minus structure. Using the simple structure of the holistic rubric allows her to focus on “what’s valuable in the course” and “has removed the guess work” for her and the students.  

Dynamic Point Adjustment rubric 

Gradescope is a centrally funded “online grading tool for scanned, pen-and-paper, free-response assessments” at Purdue. Dozens of instructors use Gradescope to offer feedback on open-ended problems that measure students’ deeper learning. It can save time because it automates much of the feedback so your students can gain knowledge on the process, not simply the product. This tool can be used for both homework and exams. Gradescope uses a dynamic point adjustment rubric, which means you can adjust it as you access an assignment. If you use an adjustment, Gradescope automatically applies the adjustment to all previously graded work, meaning you don’t have to go back and manually regrade. It integrates with Brightspace, which allows you to push scores directly to your grade book by syncing your class roster. To request a consultation on the features and benefits of Gradescope, please contact InnovativeLearningTeam@purdue.edu 

Use resources to assist in creating rubrics 

You may reduce the time and effort in creating a rubric by starting with examples from scholarly publications like those listed below. For example, Stevens and Levi (2012) outline key components to a rubric with figures and examples in the first chapter of their book and offer other examples for specific contexts throughout the publication.  

You can also utilize the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) VALUE rubrics, 16 rubric frameworks that are an open educational resource (OER) for various learning outcomes. These frameworks serve as valuable starting points, offering a structure that you can customize to suit the specific needs of your assignments. There are numerous peer-reviewed publications on adapting VALUES to specific contexts – as well as other types of rubrics – available from the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Clearinghouse. Leveraging these readily available resources can save considerable time in the initial creation phase.  

Clearly define criteria and performance  

Rubrics can help provide transparency and clarity to your students regarding assignment expectations. By breaking down assignments into specific criteria and performance levels, rubrics empower your students to understand an assignment’s objectives, expectations, and connections to course learning outcomes. This transparency minimizes confusion, fostering a sense of accountability and responsibility for their work. Stevens and Levi break down rubrics into four parts in the first chapter of their book, and four stages of a process in Chapter 4, including how to integrate rubric construction into the classroom (see below to download a worksheet).  

They join other scholars (Cockett & Jackson 2018, Feldman 2018) in suggesting that rubrics co-created with students can prevent misinterpretations before they affect student work, promote greater student engagement with assignments, and decrease instructor workload.  

Calibrate, scaffold rubrics with students, instructional team 

Like all tools, rubrics are only as effective as their implementation. Using them only for grading restricts their effectiveness and can be perceived by students as prescriptive and limiting (Cockett & Jackson 2018). It is when used in collaboration with students to create shared understanding that rubrics can enhance student performance and use of feedback. 

We cannot assume students know how to read our intentions in a specific rubric, even if they have previous experience with other rubrics. A study by Matshedisho (2020) found that students read a rubric differently than the instructor intended, focusing on individual elements independently rather than as cumulative elements of a task. An instructor has the best perspective on how an assignment and its rubric fit with the overall design of the course and scaffold achievement of course learning outcomes. Using the rubric as a tool for dialogue with students can improve performance and reduce time spent assessing work and arguing over “points” (Feldman 193). Assigning a grade remains the instructor’s role, but using rubrics as learning tools means answering the question of “How do I get a better grade?” is no longer just up to the instructor. 

Feldman suggests using sample work to calibrate a rubric with students and make sure their interpretations match your expectations (192). Scaffolding this strategy can provide students useful practice in building their competencies with the rubric. First, provide the rubric and sample assignment so students work individually or in pairs. Then discuss the results as a class to calibrate or “norm” a common understanding of one criterion at a time, looking for evidence in the project that matches the rubric. 

The rubric can be a touchstone for teaching throughout a project. For example, the Purdue Online Writing Lab offers suggestions for helping students use a rubric to give effective peer feedback

Rubric norming is also important among instructional team members, especially when there are multiple sections. It is vital to consistency in assessment and can provide instructional and program development opportunities.  

Rubrics assist teaching 

Rubrics can be especially beneficial in courses with multiple sections, where they can help provide consistency in assessment across sections, serve as tools to train new instructors, and furnish data to review for program improvement (Crews et al, 2020).  

For example, major presentation assignments are tied to rubrics in COM 114, Fundamentals of Speech Communication, a required course for many majors at Purdue. These rubrics are tied directly to the COM 114 learning outcomes and build on skills that students demonstrate over time in the course. They are included in the instructor manual along with assignments and instructional resources, and loaded into each section’s Brightspace so instructors can use them to give meaningful feedback when assessing student work. New instructors meet regularly with program managers to norm rubrics using previous semesters’ student work.  

Getting started 

The time and effort in developing a rubric is best invested over time and as part of reflective practice. For existing rubrics, look at making small changes as you review your course and assignments. Build upon each iteration in dialogue with students and other members of your instructional team.  

If you are constructing a new rubric, start with one assignment. Don’t do everything at once to avoid burnout or being overwhelmed with a new process/tool. You can begin with this downloadable worksheet, based on Stevens and Levi’s four-part rubric. 

Conclusion 

Detailed rubrics help clarify assignments for students and promote equity while providing an efficient feedback process. Despite the perceived challenge of initially dedicating time to crafting rubrics, the enduring benefits significantly outweigh the initial investment. For further exploration of rubrics, please refer to the additional resources below. 

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