What are rubrics?

Rubrics are scales in which the criteria used for grading or assessment are clearly spelled out along a continuum. Rubrics can be used to assess a wide range of assignments and activities in the classroom, from oral presentations to term papers to class participation. There are two main types:

Analytic Rubrics: Separate scales for each trait, or learning outcome, being assessed within the assignment (e.g., separate scales for “Argument,” “Organization,” “Use of Evidence,” etc.)

Holistic Rubrics: A single scale for the assignment considered as a whole. (e.g., one scale describing the characteristics of an “A” assignment, a “B” assignment, or a “C” assignment, etc.)

Why are rubrics useful?

Rubrics make grading clearer to ourselves as well as more transparent to our students. A well-considered rubric can help us as instructors by clarifying the particular areas or learning outcomes the assignment is assessing. At the same time, it can also enhance student learning by serving as both an explanation and set of goalposts for standards of achievement. It can often be very useful to distribute a rubric at the beginning of the assignment or prior to an exam, as this helps focus students’ efforts. 

Rubrics enhance student learning by . . .

  • helping students understand the objectives of the assignment and what particular aims they should focus on before they begin their assignment 
  • explaining the relationship between their grade and the quality of their work, enabling them to have a better grasp of the overall expectations and standards of the course
  • anchoring grading to specific learning objectives rather than more subjective, distracting considerations of rank or effort
  • improving assignment design by clarifying desired learning outcomes
  • contributing to fairness and consistency across sections
  • reducing student anxiety about the subjectivity of grading

Rubrics help you as an instructor by . . .

  • guiding the construction of an assignment by connecting it to learning goals and outcomes
  • narrowing the field of evaluation to desired learning outcomes when you are grading student work
  • facilitating constructive written comments by ensuring that your comments are connected to the learning outcomes of the assignment, as detailed in the rubric
  • reducing grade challenges
  • reducing your own anxieties about the subjectivity of grading