As an assessment tool, a rubric sets the criteria for evaluating performance or work completed in a course or program. A rubric can communicate the expectations for learning and provide a framework for instructors to make decisions about instruction.
Rubrics are used for both formative assessment (in-process feedback to be used for improvement) and summative assessment (evaluation of student learning at the conclusion of an assignment or project). Essentially, a rubric is a tool for communication between instructor and student.
Rubrics promote good practice in:
On this page: Introduction to Rubrics
This recorded presentation provides a brief introduction to rubrics for use in university courses. In the presentation, you will learn about the appropriate uses for rubrics and become familiar with the essential components of designing a rubric for class assignments. For more in-depth study, please see the additional resources listed below.
[Stephanie Foster:] Hello! This is
introduction to rubrics. I'm Stephanie Foster,
Assessment Lead in the Center for Teaching &
Learning at the University of Colorado Boulder.
In this session, you will learn about the
appropriate uses for rubrics and become
familiar with the essential components of
designing a rubric for class assignments
The use of rubrics as an assessment tool dates
back to the mid-1990s. So, not so long ago.
Rubrics have since been growing in popularity
and use in higher education since at least 2005
and are currently being used
in many different contexts.
A rubric is a guide that articulates the
expectations for an assignment and communicates
the level of quality for performance or learning.
Rubrics are typically used to score student
performance on defined criteria and levels of
quality, or intellectual or skill development
over time. Rubrics can be simple and short or
complex; they can be qualitative, providing
feed– narrative feedback, or quantitative,
providing numerical scores. Or all of the above.
There are two main types of
rubrics used in higher education:
the analytic rubric is what we'll spend our time
talking about today but I'd like to show you both.
So the analytic rubric specifies at least two
characteristics to be assessed at each performance
level and provides a separate score for each
characteristic. You would use analytic rubrics
for identifying particular strengths and areas of
improvement across a research paper, for instance,
and you can use it to provide detailed
formative feedback on student work.
A holistic rubric, on the other hand, provides
a single score based on an overall impression
of a student's performance on a task. You should
use a holistic rubric when a single dimension is
adequate, so perhaps you have a short assignment
or you want to give quick or summative feedback.
I'd like to show you an example of both an
analytic and a holistic rubric used for the
same task. When I was at George Mason
University, I created a product rubric
for the– looking at the results of
undergraduate research products.
So for this purpose, we defined an analytic
rubric. We wanted to understand the dimensions
of what went into that student product.
Now, a student product might be
a research paper or report; it might be a poster
at an event; but basically this is the the end of
their work so this is summative evaluation. So you
see the dimensions listed on the left, starting
with articulation of problem purpose or focus and
continuing down the line to quality of delivery.
So in this case, in this rubric,
you will see that the dimensions
are then aligned with four levels of
performance, from expert to novice, and in each–
each lines up with a description of student
performance. So in this case we're looking at the
fourth dimension down, analysis or interpretation.
You'll see that at the emerging level, the product
would show that the student used evidence
to support a limited analysis of the problem
and that their interpretation is partially linked
to the theoretical framework or scholarly model.
If you just move up to the proficient level
of performance, you'll see that there there's
an improvement the evidence now supports an
adequately complex analysis of the problem
and the interpretation is adequately
linked to the theoretical framework or
scholarly model. And as you see improvement,
you can move up into the expert category. Now,
one of the really great uses of an
analytic rubric is that you can define
where specifically where students are performing
really well and other areas where they're
performing not so well. So they may be stronger
in articulating their problem, for instance,
and weaker in, say, their quality of
delivery or their implications or impact.
Now for that same product that we're looking at,
we could use a holistic rubric and here's the
example. So you'll notice we use the same four
levels of performance from expert to novice,
but in this case there's a very
brief summary under each of those–
under each of those scales. So, the
reason we designed the rubric in this way
is that the– we had two different purposes in
mind. The first was that the analytic rubric
would be used by the instructor or the mentor to
look in-depth at a student product. We felt like
that instructor or mentor was the only person who
could really look at the product in that detail.
But we were also holding celebrations of
scholarship and presentations where students would
present their work or show their posters in
poster sessions, and we wanted to be able to
do an assessment of those products quickly by
reviewers who were not the mentors, so we would
need something where they could very quickly
assess the entire product and give it one score
so both the analytic and the holistic rubrics
are– have important uses at certain times.
Now why should you use rubrics? Essentially,
a rubric is a communication tool between the
instructor and the student. So a rubric creates
a common framework and clear expectations for
how students will perform. It creates consistency
and fairness using the same criteria and standards
across all of the students in your class,
and across reviewers or multiple graders. I
should note here that it's important that if
you are using multiple reviewers or graders
that you need to spend time training them on
the rubric and norming their scoring across
samples, so that graders are not interpreting
the language in different ways, and thus this
consistency and fairness notion would kind of
go out the window. So you want to make sure
that everybody's using this in the same
way to promote consistency and fairness.
Rubrics can promote transparency, so that progress
towards a final product and grades are clear.
It reduces mystery when and helps students to
understand why they earn the grade or the feedback
that they receive. Some faculty think that rubrics
can be used for faster assessment and it can be
done more efficiently when you have a rubric with
well-defined categories and criteria for success.
Now I might add here that it's important when
you're giving student feedback that you always add
something particular to that student work: that
you don't only use the rubric but that students
also receive written feedback and comments
from you that are specific to their assignment.
Rubrics can be used to identify
strengths and weaknesses, so
using the example that I just showed you,
it could show exactly where students are
doing well and where they need more support.
So usually when students earn a B on a paper,
you assess the paper in a holistic way to earn a
B but there are specific components that are not
all earning B grades. You may have strengths in
some areas and areas maybe the conclusion was not
a B, maybe the conclusion was a D, but overall the
student performed well, but this could really help
to identify specific strengths and weaknesses. And
finally, rubrics are used for objective criteria.
Rubrics are criterion-referenced: this means
that you compare all student work against the
criteria for success, and not norm-referenced, so
you're not comparing students to each other. So
when should you use rubrics? A rubric can be used
for assignments for which there's more more than
one answer, so really, there's no point in using
rubrics for a multiple choice exam, for instance;
you can use rubrics for formative or summative
assessment and what's the difference here? I
really like what evaluator Robert Stake
wrote, that when the cook tastes the soup,
that's formative. You still have time to
improve it. But when the guests eat the soup,
that's summative, you're done. So– so you can use
rubrics in both a formative and a summative way.
You can use rubrics for both process or product or
performance. A process element might be something
like how well a student communicated
with team members for a group project.
A product or performance might be a final research
paper or the performance of a choreography.
Rubrics are very useful when done appropriately
for peer review so students can use rubrics to
look at each other's work and get feedback
for improvement. And finally, rubrics
are useful for self assessment and improvement.
This can promote higher-order thinking such as
critical thinking and self-reflection, and can
communicate that back with their instructor.
Now let's talk about how do you create a rubric?
In its simplest form, a rubric includes five
things. The essentials are a task description,
the outcomes or dimensions to be rated
(these are the rows of the rubric), the levels of
performance or the scale (those are the columns),
a description of each characteristic at each level
of performance or scale (this– this is the content
of each of the cells), and a scoring strategy.
We are going to focus on numbers one through four
the scoring strategy will be
covered in a separate presentation.
So I'm going to continue to use the example that
I showed you earlier from George Mason University;
you should have a link to that in the content on
the website where you're viewing this video right
now. A task description: so on the first
page there's actually quite a bit of text
but if you sort through that text, ultimately
you'll find the task description. This rubric
is designed to evaluate the product of an
undergraduate research or creative project.
Products may include written
documents, poster presentations,
oral presentations or performances,
artistic expressions, and interviews.
So when you write your rubric, you should be
very clear about the activity, the assignment,
the performance or presentation
that's being assessed. Okay, the next
uh– when you take a look at an analytic rubric,
you'll see these uh different pieces. So you want
to define your dimensions. Your dimensions
are either about the product or performance,
which we've discussed, so, for instance,
the use of evidence to make an argument
could be a dimension, the use of examples could
be a dimension, or the organization of ideas,
or it can be about process. So we use the example
of communication for teamwork, for example,
or did the student follow proper protocols. This
is whether they– how they perform the process
of producing the work. And across the top you'll
see the scales or level of– levels of performance.
This describes how well the task is
performed. So you might have different levels:
you could have language describing those levels
such as exemplary, proficient, or needs work;
complete, partial, or none; or you
could have letter grades across the top.
So let's look at dimensions or outcomes and
in this case I'm continuing to use the example
of this– the product rubric. The outcomes or
dimensions to be rated, these are the rows;
these are the skills knowledge and or behavior to
be demonstrated. You should specify which skills,
knowledge, or behaviors you are looking for here,
and limit the characteristics to those that are
most important to the assignment. So one thing I
want to caution faculty on here is something I see
quite often and that is when I interview faculty
about an assignment they say, "I want students to
develop critical thinking skills. I want them
to understand how to use multiple sources to
make an argument." They almost never say things
like, "I want students to use proper grammar,"
"I want them to use proper syntax and have no
spelling errors," and yet when I take a look at
their rubric, their rubric significantly weights
things like grammar, syntax, and spelling errors.
So if those are things that you want to grade
students on, then those things need to be included
in your rubric and be clearly spelled
out. Now of course you're going to have
things that happen in student assignments that
are unexpected. Maybe somebody does something
that is wonderful and you want to reward them
for that. Maybe they do something unexpected in
various ways and you want to be able to comment
on that. You should always leave room for
the the unexpected or the wonderful things that
you see in student work. But by defining these,
and clarifying these expectations, you do that
not only for the student but for yourself.
Now when you're thinking about scales or levels
of performance, these are the labels that you
use to describe the levels of performance,
and they should be clear and meaningful. One
of the things that I like to do that I prefer
is to always have positive language. Positive
and developmental language. So what I mean by
developmental is that we know that students
are learning and growing and we want to represent
that. So this is not representing a failure,
but that you are performing at a certain level
and we know that you'll be able to improve. Now of
course you may use letter grades, or you may use a
word, uh, instead of "novice" here you might have
"unacceptable," or maybe that's off the scale:
maybe you also have an unacceptable category or
maybe you just don't see an element in the
student work at all, so they're required
to articulate their problem and maybe they
don't do that at all. So that's not a novice,
that's– that's a zero because they didn't do that
and so you just need to be clear what you expect.
So when you're completing in an analytic rubric,
the description of each of these dimensions
at– and according to each level of performance,
it's good practice to start with the top category.
So this describes the best work you expect using
all of the characteristics. And then define the
lowest category. What's an unacceptable product,
or the bare minimum that you expect to see? And
then develop the descriptions of the intermediate
level products in the categories. You should make
sure that the language from column to column is
similar, and that your syntax and wording are
aligned. So you should use specific descriptions,
avoiding words like "good" or "excellent" but use
words that are clearer to students and
provide areas that they can use to improve.
I like to start my list of outcomes with
the content, ideas, arguments, and then move
to things like organization, grammar, and
citation if those things are being evaluated.
Now what I've given to you today has been a
very brief introduction to rubrics with not
a lot of examples. If rubrics is something
that you really want to learn more about,
there are a couple really great books
on the subject, pretty recent books;
the second one, "Introduction to Rubrics," should
probably be on every faculty member's shelf.
And one more slide; I want to talk about
expanding our use of rubrics. So, a 2009
review of research on the use of rubrics in higher
education found that students tended to think of
rubrics as helping them learn and achieve, so,
that formative use of rubrics, while instructors
focused almost exclusively on rubric use for quick
grading. So there's a bit of a mismatch there,
and I think that the way that students are
looking at it is the way that I look at it,
although I do enjoy quick grading myself, but I'd
like to encourage you to think about using rubrics
as an instructional guide instead of or
in addition to the use for grading. So
how can you use rubrics to help provide
a richer, more complex communication
to students about expectations and about
their ability to to grow and to learn
through this assignment? But here's the key: you
can't just hand out the rubric to students. They
must be taught how to use it for self-assessment
and improvement. They must get practice and
understand the language. So this is important for
self-assessment and for peer assessment as well.
Rubrics can be developed to assess learning
performance over time, such as in a portfolio from
one semester, from multiple semesters, or over the
course of a student's academic career. Portfolios
are very often used in certain academic fields
such as teaching or education programs; they
are often used in performance or visual arts, for
example; and in a variety of other areas as well.
Rubrics can be used to assess learning
across sections of the same course.
So if you want to understand, for instance, the
impact of different teaching strategies across the
different sections or other elements, you might
use a rubric to do that kind of assessment,
or across courses. So you can use the same
rubric for similar kinds of assignments
across courses. And finally, rubrics can be
used in a very interesting way as a program
guide to make decisions about [a] program's
curriculum and program assessment tools. So
rubrics can be used for faculty to have shared
understandings about what students are learning,
where you want to see students go, and,
ultimately, what the values of the department
are in that program. And it can also be used
to then create program assessment tools such
as surveys uh and– and other kinds of um and to
guide other kinds of assessment and evaluation.
- Slides shown in the video presentation (PDF).
- Example rubric in the video: George Mason University Students as Scholars Product Rubric, 2013 (PDF).
- Rubric template (Word document).
Good Practices for Creating Rubrics
In its simplest form, a rubric includes five things:
- A task description: The activity, assignment, performance, or presentation being assessed.
- The outcomes or dimensions to be rated (rows): The skills, knowledge, and/or behavior to be demonstrated. Specify the skills, knowledge, and/or behaviors that you will be looking for. Limit the characteristics to those that are most important to the assignment.
- Levels of performance/scale (columns): Labels used to describe the levels of performance should be clear and meaningful. Commonly used labels include:
- Not meeting, approaching, meeting, exceeding
- Exemplary, proficient, marginal, unacceptable
- Advanced, intermediate high, intermediate, novice
- Complete, partial, minimal, none
- Letter grades (A, B, C, D, F)
- A description of each characteristic at each level of performance/scale (cells)
- Describe the best work you expect using these characteristics. This describes the top category.
- Describe an unacceptable product. This describes the lowest category.
- Develop descriptions of intermediate-level products for intermediate categories.
- Make sure that the language from column to column is similar, that syntax and wording are aligned.
- Use specific descriptions, avoiding words like “good” and “excellent.”
- Start your list of outcomes with the content, ideas, and arguments, then organization, grammar, and citation (if being evaluated)
- A scoring strategy
- Test the rubric by applying it to samples of student work.
- Share the rubric with colleagues.
- Review feedback and revise.
Good Practices for Using Rubrics*
Use Student-Friendly Language
Use language that is appropriate to the level of the course and your students. If you are using academic or disciplinary language, make sure you spend time teaching and practicing the concepts.
Share the Rubric with Students
Share the rubric with the assignment prompt so that students are familiar with your expectations. This should help students master your learning outcomes by guiding their work in appropriate directions.
Use the Rubric to Grade Student Work
Use the rubric to grade student work and return the rubric with the grading on it. Faculty save time writing extensive comments by marking relevant segments of the rubric. Some instructors include space for additional comments on the rubric, either within each section or at the end.
Develop the Rubric with Students
Students can monitor themselves and their peers using agreed-upon criteria that they help develop. Have students apply your rubric to sample products before they create their own. The ability to evaluate, edit, and improve draft documents is an important skill.
Use the Rubric for Peer Review
Have students exchange paper drafts and give peer feedback using the rubric. Then, give students time to revise before submitting the final draft to you. You might also require that they turn in the draft and peer-scored rubric with their final paper.
Use the Rubric for Student Self-Assessment
Students assess their own work using the rubric and submit the rubric with their assignment. This is a great basis for deep discussion about which aspects they can improve.
*This content was adapted with gratitude from work done by the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Office of Assessment, 2018
Further Reading & Resources
Selke, M. J. G. (2013). Rubric assessment goes to college: Objective, comprehensive evaluation of student work. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. J. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning (second edition). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
University of Wisconsin–Madison Examples & Resources (webpage; section on Responding, Evaluating, Grading)