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Using Rubrics: Improving Evaluation of Student Work & Promoting Student Learning

What Are Rubrics?

Rubrics are explanations, often in chart or table form, that articulate expectations for any given assignment or task that will be assessed.  The rubric lists the evaluation criteria and describes the performance level of each criteria on a scale (for example, from excellent to poor, or from A to F).

Rubrics can be simple or complex, holistic or analytic, and are primarily used to evaluate student work.  However, when rubrics are incorporated into course design, assignment design, and in-class activities,  rubrics can help students learn.  

When used as part of a formative, student-centered approach to assessment, rubrics have the potential to help students develop understanding and skill, as well as make dependable judgments about the quality of their own work. Students should be able to use rubrics in many of the same ways that teachers use them—to clarify the standards for a quality performance, and to guide ongoing feedback about progress toward those standards.

Why Use Rubrics?
  • Rubrics clarify expectations for students and make visible the criteria upon which an assignment will be evaluated.
  • Rubrics give students an opportunity for students to self-assess their work before they submit it.
  • Rubrics streamline and "norm" the feedback and process of giving feedback on assignments.
  • Rubrics give students a clear idea of their performance on all relevant evaluation criteria.
  • Rubrics can eliminate the process of "reinventing the wheel" or repeating the same feedback on students' papers.
  • Rubrics can be used to inform and support peer feedback activities and assignments.
  • Rubrics can easily be tied to course outcomes or assessment outcomes when appropriate.
  • One last reason: rubrics are increasingly used in K-12 education.  While this alone isn't enough reason to use them, using the language and form of evaluation with which they are already familiar can connect with students' prior knowledge about how to understand their own assessment and performance.  

Best Practices for Teaching with Rubrics:
  • While rubrics are a part of the assessment of student work, they should be made visible to students when the work is assigned, so students can identify the goals and objectives of the assignment on which they are working.
  • Rubrics can be used actively in the class to evaluate relevant work in the discipline, example student work (which is often used to teach specific assignments), or peer evaluation activities, and can even be incorporated into self-assessment activities (before or after the relevant work is due).
  • Rubrics should be part of the course discussion on evaluation: explain from where the criteria come from, and demonstrate
  • Asking students to engage in the content of a rubric (even in an in-class assignment or self-assessment), reinforces students' ability to self-assess their own learning.  This type of meta-cognition enhances student learning.

Designing rubrics involve backward design: before one can write a rubric, one needs to first prepare and design
  • Course outcomes
  • Grading Scheme or Evaluation/Performance Scheme
  • Evaluation Criteria
  • Assignment  
Low-tech Rubrics:
A rubric can be as simple as a descriptive table or bulleted list describing the performance levels of each criterion.  This list can be a part of the assignment as well as part of the feedback.  

When giving feedback, instructors can mark up the rubric to indicate the performance level of each criterion, in addition to any other comments they want to add.

Examples of low-tech rubrics:
    • Physics Design Project Report Rubric
    • Scientific Report Rubric
High-tech Rubrics:
Using a rubric to assess student work submitted electronically through d2L eliminates paper and can streamline the grading process because the easily-customized rubrics can be associated with dropboxes, discussions, and quizzes - any item in the "gradebook."   

Using d2L to Create Rubrics (our course management system): UW La Crosse has compiled excellent directions for designing a rubric in d2l here.

Designing a rubric from scratch can be time-intensive work, but once it is complete, it works quite well.  Still not convinced?  See the screencast with an example of a rubric I created to assess student discussions in d2L here

For Further Reading:
  • "GPS in the classroom: using rubrics to increase student achievement"  Vandenberg, Amy; Stollak, Matthew; McKeag, Linda; Obermann, Doug. Research in Higher Education Journal 9 (Oct 2010): 1-10.
  • Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback and Promote Student Learning Dannelle D. Stevens and Antonia J. Levi Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2004 
  • Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2006.
  • "The Case for Authentic Assessment," Grant Wiggins, Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 2(2). 

Resources, Examples, and Workshops Available Online:
Call for Examples:
If you have a rubric you would like to share, please send it to vtlc@uwc.edu and it will be linked here as an example.

Reflect & Respond

Do you use rubrics? What kind(s) of rubric(s) do you use? On what kind(s) of assignments? How do you integrate rubrics into your teaching? Other than giving feedback, how do you use them?

Feel free to leave a comment on this blog post or send an email to vtlc@uwc.edu