Creating Rubrics: The art of evaluation

by Andrea E. Hall
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

One of the biggest issues surrounding teaching today is how to effectively evaluate students. While testing is a major component, especially for our brothers and sisters in secondary education, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of the educational system as it is often made out to be.

Wilbert McKeachie’s book McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers stresses the importance of validity in assessment. Just like in research, validity asks if the assessment is measuring what it is supposed to be measuring. The reality in teaching is some topics simply can’t be evaluated as effectively with tests, which is where papers and projects often become the choice method.

However, there are often more variables to consider when assigning a paper or project than filling in multiple-choice bubbles. This where creating a rubric as a guide for both the student and later for you, as the grading teacher, is useful.

What is the purpose of a rubric for students?

A rubric often spells out the evaluation criteria and explicitly defines the performance expectations for a student’s work to receive a certain grade.

It also helps students judge their work by providing a method for both self-assessment and peer assessment. This allows the students to spot and solve problems before submitting an assignment for a grade. Increasing the student’s responsibility.

What is the purpose of a rubric for teachers?

It creates grading standards to help with grading consistency. This is especially important for large classes, where there may be multiple professors, instructors or TAs grading assignments. Or when different instructors teach the class over several semesters. The rubric creates a common language for the graders to refer to.

It may reduce time grading. This is not a guarantee. It depends on how detailed the rubric is and how much feedback it allows. However, it is a possible benefit.

Tying rubrics in with Student Learning Objectives

At the University of Florida, instructors are asked to provide Student Learning Objectives for each course in order to determine what students should have learned by the end of their time at the university. Rubrics are a good way to connect assignments with these SLOs.

One of the ways of doing this is by having assignments directly correspond with one or two SLOs. The rubric will include those SLOs by using the big idea as the base of the project and then the breakdown of how the student has used specific skills to meet that criteria.

For example, in a visual journalism course, students may be expected to learn how to tell a story visually and shoot and edit video.

The rubric for a project may ask the student to pitch a story, storyboard the video, and shoot and edit the video. The first two items, pitch a story and story board, will help fulfill the objective of learning to tell stories visually. And the latter two elements, shoot and edit video, will teach the latter two skills. Skills that accompany SLOs may include drawing thumbnails, thinking about continuity, determining shot/shooting angle and using a computer program such as iMovie or Final Cut. Each of these areas will be given points and students will be awarded certain numbers of points depending on execution.

One of the great elements of connecting SLOs with rubrics is that is allows students to see how projects serve the goals of the course and, hopefully, how they will serve them in their future career.

What are the elements of a rubric?

There are three parts:

Task Description: This is what the students should be doing, such as writing a
research paper, doing a presentation, creating a magazine. It sets the scene.

Criteria: This section identifies and lays out each component of a task. It will include the types of skills students must demonstrate to successfully complete the assignment.

Quality: Ah, the grading scale. This section will describe how well or poorly any
given task has been performed. It typically uses three to five levels, which often correlate with points, percentages, letter grades, words or a combination of these. For example an Excellent may suggest 9-10 points, whereas good may be with 7-8 points.

Four stages for constructing a good rubric?

  1. Reflect: What do you want students to learn from the assignment?
  2. List: What are the details of the assignment and which SLOs do they meet?
  3. Group and Label: Organize the list into categories or topic groups.
  4. Application: Create scale or chart with the criteria and quality scale.

Rubrics can be used for a wide array of assignments. I like to break them up into four categories of P’s:

  • Papers
  • Projects
  • Presentations
  • Performances

Papers can include personal essays and research papers. Projects may be individual and group, visual and technical. Presentations may include be oral testing for foreign languages or business PowerPoints. Performances could be musical, dance or dramatic.

There are numerous ways of creating rubrics, but the most important aspect to remember is that the rubric should serve the student to help them turn in high-quality work and you, as a teacher, to evaluate students with a valid measure.

Sources for this post came from:

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellance and Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon

McKeachie’s Teaching Tips

Harvard University’s Heidi Goodricj Andrade

University of Connecticut –

Andrea Hall is a doctoral student at the University of Florida and a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).

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