Rubrics - Quick Guide for all Content Areas

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A rubric is a tool that teachers use to assess many different types of assignments including written work, projects, speeches, and more. Every rubric is divided into a set of criteria (ex: organization, evidence, conclusion) with descriptors or markers of quality to explain each criterion. A rubric also has a rating scale that uses point values or standard performance levels to identify a student's level of mastery for an assignment.

The rating scale on a rubric makes it an excellent way to grade an assignment as well as a way to progress monitor student performance over time. Rubrics are also useful as teaching tools that spell out expectations for students to follow. Research shows that student input in constructing rubrics can improve scores and engagement. Finally, rubrics can also be used to facilitate self and peer reviews of student work.

Rubric Criterion

Generally, all rubrics, regardless of subject matter, contain criteria for introductions and conclusions. Standards of English, or grammar and spelling, are also criteria common in a rubric. There are, however, many different criteria or measurements in a rubric that are subject specific. For example, in a rubric for an English literary essay, the criteria might include:

  • Purpose or thesis statement
  • Organization
  • Evidence and support

In contrast, a rubric for a science lab report might feature other measurements such as:

  • Problem
  • Definitions
  • Data and results
  • Solution

The descriptors for the criteria contains qualifying language for each level of performance that links the rubric assignment or task to the lesson or unit's learning objectives. These descriptors are what make a rubric different from a checklist. The explanations detail the quality of each element in a rubric according to a standard of mastery while a checklist does not.

Scoring with Rubric Descriptors

Student work can be rated on a rubric according to different scales or levels of mastery. Some examples of levels on rubric could be:

  • 5-scale rubric: mastery, accomplished, developing, emerging, unacceptable
  • 4-scale rubric: above proficiency, proficient, approaching proficiency, below proficiency
  • 3-scale rubric: outstanding, satisfactory, unsatisfactory

The descriptors on the rubric are different for each level of mastery. Take, for example, the difference in the language in a 3-scale rubric that rates student work for the criterion "incorporation of evidence":

  • Outstanding: Appropriate and accurate evidence is explained well. 
  • Satisfactory: Appropriate evidence is explained, however, some inaccurate information is included. 
  • Unsatisfactory: Evidence is missing or irrelevant.

When the teacher uses a rubric to score student work, the value of each element must be done in increments, and different point values can be assigned. For example, a rubric can be organized to award 12 points for outstanding use of evidence, 8 points for satisfactory use of evidence, and 4 points for unsatisfactory use of evidence.

It is possible to weight one criterion or element to count more heavily in the grading. For example, a social studies teacher may decide to triple the points for the incorporation of evidence in a student's response. Increasing the value for this element to 36 points when the other elements in an assignment are 12 points each indicates to the student the importance of this criterion. In this example, the assignment, now worth a total of 72 points, could be broken down as follows:

  • Introduction or thesis- 12 points
  • Evidence- 36 points
  • Organization-12 points
  • Conclusion-12 points

Reasons for Rubrics

When rubrics are given to the students before they complete their work, students have a better understanding of how they will be assessed. Rubrics may also help reduce the time spent on grading which may result in an increase of time spent on teaching.

One important benefit of using rubrics for assignments is that they help teachers develop consistency in evaluating student performance across a class. When used on a larger scale, rubrics can provide a consistent scoring method across a grade, school, or district.

For some assignments, multiple teachers can grade a student's work using the same rubric and then average those grades. This process, known as calibration, can help build teacher agreement around the different levels such as exemplary, proficient, and developing.

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