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Tips to Writing a Strong Rubric

Many teachers shy away from rubrics because they are time-consuming to compose. This is true, rubrics CAN take a while to make, but rubrics will save time on the grading end. Quick Rubric makes it easy to set up your rubrics.

Many rubrics can be used again for similar assignments or can serve as templates for new rubrics. Developing rubrics for assignments and assessments helps focus teaching and learning on the most important aspects of content and skills.

To help you write the best rubrics, here are a few tips to get you started.

Decide what you want to grade for this assignment or activity

Before jumping into creating a rubric, think carefully about the performance objectives of the assignment. Keep these objectives specific and clear.

List the most relevant objectives of the assignment. There are likely many aims you have for the assignment (presentation, correctness, organization, vocabulary, etc.), but make sure you are using the criteria that relate to the assignment. What are you trying to assess with THIS assignment? You may want students’ work to be neat, or follow a certain format, but do they need to be graded on it? (Sometimes: yes!)

Choose three to seven criteria that satisfy the objectives. More than seven criteria can be overwhelming for students and teachers alike. Criteria need to be measurable: there needs to be evidence of whether or not students have achieved them. “Understanding” or “knowing” is not easily measured, but what students DO to show their understanding or knowledge can be. Sometimes one criterion will satisfy a Common Core standard, and sometimes there will be several criteria on a rubric that all satisfy the same standard.

Criteria vary greatly on the subject matter and scope of the assignment, but here is a short list of ideas to help.

Written Assignments Performance Assignments Behavior
  • Thesis Statement / Argument / Answering the Question
  • Organization
  • Conventions / Spelling and Grammar
  • Voice
  • Word Choice / Vocabulary
  • Use of Figurative Language
  • Neatness / Presentation / Format
  • Label Diagrams
  • Purpose
  • Speak Clearly / Loudly / Slowly
  • Use of Visuals / Media
  • Engage Audience
  • Play / Sing Correct Rhythm / Notes
  • Accuracy of Factual Information
  • Ask Relevant Questions
  • Recite Text
  • Follow Steps in Experiment
  • Video / Audio Editing
  • Follow Directions
  • Work Well with a Group
  • Use Kind Words
  • Keep Hands and Other Body Parts to Self
  • Listen to Others
  • Remain Seated
  • Raise Hand to ask Question
  • Stay on Task
  • Respect Materials

Decide on a Type of Rubric: Analytical or Holistic?

There are two main types of rubrics: analytical and holistic.

Analytic Holistic
Gives explicit actionable feedback - shows strengths and weaknesses Not much actionable feedback
More accurate scoring options Quicker to grade
Assess components of a finished piece of work Overall quality of piece of work (as a whole)
Best for assignments with many components, or for targeted feedback Best for assignments where there are large numbers to grade

For many of us, we think of analytic rubrics when we hear the word “rubric.” Analytic rubrics list the criteria for an assignment and describe these criteria in varying levels of quality. Most often an analytic rubric is in a grid or table format. The criteria are listed along one side and the performance ratings along the adjacent side. In the example below, the criteria are “Factual Information,” “Use of a Visual,” and “Speaking for a Presentation.”

Different students will perform at varying levels, so it is important to have a range of possibilities for grading, and not simply yes or no, or good or bad. The performance ratings can be either numerical, descriptive, or both. A rubric might divide quality of performance into three parts: 3 - Excellent, 2 - Satisfactory, and 1 - Needs Work. Each criterion needs to be described for each of these performance ratings. What makes the use of a visual “satisfactory” versus “excellent”? The interior of the rubric matches the criteria with the performance ratings for the different shades of merit.

Holistic rubrics are slightly different from a rubric that is set up as an extended grid. A holistic rubric describes the attributes of each grade or level. This type of rubric gives an overall score, taking the entire piece into account, which is particularly useful for essay questions on paper and pencil tests. Most student work will likely fit into more than one category for different criteria. The scorer must choose the grade that best fits the student performance. A holistic rubric scores more quickly than an analytic, and often judges the overall understanding of content or quality of performance. They do not give as detailed feedback on what aspect of the work needs to be improved, so these types of rubrics are less useful for assignments with many components. Math problems for high stakes testing will often use a holistic rubric.

Analytic Rubric Example

Holistic Rubric Example

Determine a Reasonable Number of Performance Levels

Performance levels can be numerical, descriptive, or both. Numerical performance levels lend themselves to easy scoring, just add up the numbers, or let Quick Rubric do it for you! Sometimes, numerical grades do not matter as much, as in a self assessment. Descriptive ratings may be more informative for students to see how well they are performing, and not necessarily what final numerical grade they are receiving.

Three to five performance levels is usually best, but use what works for your assignment. More levels might make it difficult to parse out differences between each. Fewer ratings might not account for enough variance in the quality of the assignments; different quality of work may receive the same rating because there are not enough categories to separate them out. Do you want to have a very variable grading structure, such as 1-5, or are there only a few categories, like advanced, proficient, needs improvement?

Write Explicit Outcomes that Match each Criterion with each Performance Level

What makes for a good answer? Look at each criterion separately. First, write what would satisfy that criterion the best. Then fill in the cell that would get the worst score. After you have your two bookends, go back and fill in the middle. The best part of a rubric is that it shows all the different levels, but the difference between each level needs to be clear, like steps on a ladder, so it is evident why a student received the score he did.

Finally, Make sure your rubric works. Are you using the correct criteria? Do the best assignments get the best grades? If you have previous student work on the same assignment, test your rubric on a few samples. If that isn’t an option, see how well your rubric stacks up against the student work you receive and revise for future assignments.

Good luck and good assessing!

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