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Pedagogical Development Office

Teaching Tip: Rubrics for Assessment

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Image courtesy of vichie81 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the surprising things about the student working group at the November 1, 2011 VCC Day, was their request that more teachers use rubrics for grading assignments.

The word rubric is rooted in the Latin word for red, and refers to the red ink commonly used for marking. In the modern context, a rubric is any scoring scale, along with a task-specific set of criteria, used to assess student performance.

Above all, a rubric is a communication tool: it communicates to students, colleagues and yourself, in concrete and observable terms, what you value, and to what degree, in the task or assignment at hand. Depending on the discipline and task, this could be: content such as discipline specific knowledge and/or vocabulary; concrete or abstract skills and internal processes required for competency achievement such as laboratory skills, team-work, critical thinking, organizational skills, writing skills; oral skills, and/or some combination of these.  A rubric is also a marking tool, making your evaluation and assessment more objective and consistent, and usually faster.

There are four basic features of any rubric:

  • Stated Objective or Purpose: Typically contained in the title of the assignment, and sometimes with a list or summary of the targeted competencies or learning outcomes.
  • Scoring Criteria: The characteristics of good performance on the task. The scoring criteria are the most difficult part of a rubric to design. They can be simply a list of skills or knowledge you expect students to demonstrate, or a more detailed list of each criterion of the assessment, based on the competencies you want to assess in this assignment.
    You can get inspiration from the guidelines or instructions given for the task, course frameworks, ministerial competencies, your colleagues, provincial board exam criteria, or from reviewing past assignments.
  • Levels of Performance: The defined required level of achievement of the competency for each of the scoring criteria. Like the criteria, these can be simple or detailed; the performance levels can be on a mark, on a scale of 1 to10, a letter grade of A, B or C, a percentage %, a yes/no or pass/fail, and so on. The more detailed the rubric, the longer it will take to grade.
  • Descriptors/Indicators: What is demonstrated at each level of performance for each criterion. So, for instance, what constitutes “proficient” calculations, and what are “adequate” calculations?

 A rubric protects you and the student. When you have a rubric, it’s much easier to respond to that question ‘Why did I get this mark?’. You can show exactly where the student lost or gained points. If students know the frame of your rubric beforehand, and/or if you indicate the breakdown of their grade on the returned work, you’re less likely to even get that question at all. And although we may not often have to deal with grade appeals, a rubric also makes it simpler to defend the grade you gave.

There are different styles of rubrics and different implementations. You can find examples on the PDO website and detailed descriptions and templates on the web. The most important thing to consider, to make your rubric successful, is to do what works for you in terms of the subject, your choice of criteria, and your choice of performance level scale. Once you’ve developed your rubric (or rubrics, if you’re preparing different ones for different assessments), be sure to share it with your students, preferably before an assignment. Students can use the rubric as a checklist, to be sure they’ve covered all the aspects of the assignment, and they’ll see what you’re measuring and how. Review the rubric with them, particularly if certain elements are worth more than others, so they understand where to focus their efforts. To promote reflective thinking, you might ask students to use the rubric for self-assessment or peer-assessment of their work before they submit it to you.

Developing rubrics is not always straightforward, and your rubrics will certainly need tweaking after field testing – be prepared to update your rubric once in a while, to reflect any confusion or gaps you notice. The time invested in creating and maintaining your rubric will pay off, both for you and for your students. They will appreciate the rubric as a checklist when preparing assignments and a validation of marks received, and you will appreciate how much faster and easier it is to determine grades.

Pedagogical Development Office
Vanier College