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Using rubrics for feedback and learning

Using rubrics for feedback and learning

A rubric is considered as a scoring tool that lays out the specific expectations for a task / assignment. It divides the task / assignment into its component parts and provide a detailed description of what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable levels of performance for each of the parts.

A rubric helps to ensure that the assessment of student learning matches with the desired learning objectives. It also ensures that there is some level of agreement among different raters/assessors.

Here are the steps to help you design and build a rubric:

  1. Identify the criteria for assessment by referring to the learning objectives that were specified during the design stage.
  2. For each criterion identified, decide how it can be observed or measured. Specify the attributes that students are expected to show in their work.
  3. Based on the attributes specified above, identify the characteristics or traits that qualify as “exceeding expectations (good)”, “meeting expectations (average) or “below expectations (low)”. If a 3-level rating scheme is not sufficient, more intermediate levels can be considered.
  4. Express the characteristics or traits as detailed descriptors for each level of performance by using precise words to explain how the characteristics or traits can be observed or measured.

To illustrate, the table below shows sample rubric for an essay writing-type of assessment method, where students are expected to arrive at a plausible solution for a business problem. There are eight criteria in the rubric to assess students on the learning objectives and there are three levels in the rating scheme (low, average and good). The items in each cell explain the different attributes to qualify for each level of rating.

Criterion Level 1
(Low)
Level 2
(Average)
Level 3
(Good)
Average
Rating
Identifying the problem Not able to correctly identify the problem Able to correctly identify the problem without providing details about the situation Able to correctly identify the problem and provides details about the situation  
Analysing the pertinent issues Able to list and analyse only some of the pertinent issues and lacks in-depth analysis Able to list and analyse all the pertinent issues but lacks in-depth analysis Able to list and analyse all the pertinent issues in depth  
Presenting a list of alternatives Able to identify only one or two alternatives Able to identify a list of alternatives but fails to provide details for all the alternatives Able to identify a list of alternatives and provides details for each  
Comparing and contrasting the alternatives Able to list the pros and cons of only some alternatives and fails to weigh them against one another Able to list the pros and cons of all the alternatives but fails to weigh them against one another Able to list the pros and cons of all alternatives and weighs them against one another  
Providing a plausible solution Not able to provide a plausible solution and makes no attempts to justify the decision Able to provide a plausible solution but provides little justification Able to provide a plausible solution with good justifications  
Structure of the essay Not structured and materials are disconnected Well-structured but materials are not well connected Well-structured and materials are presented in a coherent manner, with good linkages
Grammar Full of errors in grammar, punctuation or spelling Contains some errors in grammar, punctuation or spelling Free of errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling

Rubrics can be used either for formative (to give feedback and learning) or summative (for evaluation and grading) purposes. To use rubrics for formative purpose, first allocate a rating in each criterion for each level (say a numeric one for Level 1 and two for Level 2). Next, award a rating for each student and take the average score for rating of all students for each criterion. This average score will provide instructors with information on the areas of strengths and weaknesses of the students across the criteria.

The criteria address the learning objectives of the course, so naturally, if the assessment data shows that students have not accomplished certain learning objectives in the course, instructors can decide how to fine-tune their instructional strategies, in accordance to the learning objectives set in the course. Instructors may also decide how to refine the course learning objectives, if appropriate, and make them more transparent to the students. Or, instructors may decide to redesign the course assessment so as to address the course learning objectives. Through such a systematic feedback loop, rubrics are therefore, useful for giving feedback to students on how to improve their learning, as well as giving feedback to instructors how to refine their teaching. One can then assure that there is structure and proper alignment in the way the course is designed.

The rubric should be constantly reviewed and revised for improvements as they are being used to ensure that they are adequate and appropriate for use for different groups of students, who have varying backgrounds and abilities. Where possible, instructors should pilot-test the rubrics on students’ assignments so that they can identify deficiencies or unsuitability in using the rubric.

USING RUBRICS FOR EVALUATION AND GRADING

More often the case, rubrics are used for the purpose of evaluating and grading students’ assignments. For this purpose, marks are allocated for each criterion to indicate the weight of it in the overall grading scheme and a range of marks for each level of performance is determined.

The table below shows a sample grading rubric for the abovementioned essay writing-type of assignment. The marks add up to 100 in total, with a greater percentage of the marks for the content-specific cognitive skills than that for writing skills. The marks are summed up for every student and the total marks for the students would reflect their grade for the writing assignment.

Criterion Level 1
(0 – 50% of maximum marks)
Level 2
(51 – 80% of maximum marks)
Level 3
(81 – 100% of maximum marks)
Average Rating
Identifying the problem
(10 marks)
Not able to correctly identify the problem Able to correctly identify the problem without providing details about the situation Able to correctly identify the problem and provides details about the situation  
Analysing the pertinent issues
(20 marks)
Able to list and analyse only some of the pertinent issues and lacks in-depth analysis Able to list and analyse all the pertinent issues but lacks in-depth analysis Able to list and analyse all the pertinent issues in depth  
Presenting a list of alternatives
(15 marks)
Able to identify only one or two alternatives Able to identify a list of alternatives but fails to provide details for all the alternatives Able to identify a list of alternatives and provides details for each  
Comparing and contrasting the alternatives
(30 marks)
Able to list the pros and cons of only some alternatives and fails to weigh them against one another Able to list the pros and cons of all the alternatives but fails to weigh them against one another Able to list the pros and cons of all alternatives and weighs them against one another  
Providing a plausible solution
(15 marks)
Not able to provide a plausible solution and makes no attempts to justify the decision Able to provide a plausible solution but provides little justification Able to provide a plausible solution with good justifications  
Structure of the essay
(5 marks)
Not structured and materials are disconnected Well-structured but materials are not well connected Well-structured and materials are presented in a coherent manner, with good linkages  
Grammar
(5 marks)
Full of errors in grammar, punctuation or spelling Contains some errors in grammar, punctuation or spelling Free of errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling  
     
Total marks:
 

For instructors, the rubric provides the characteristics for each level of performance on which they should base their judgment on. For students, the rubric provides clear information about what they are expected to deliver against certain benchmarks.

Indeed, the marks for each criterion reflect the importance of the criterion in the instructor’s grading scheme. For example, using the sample above, the weight allocated to the criterion “Comparing and contrasting the alternatives” is relatively high compared to the other criteria, and this indicates the importance of this criterion in the instructor’s grading scheme. In comparison, the weight allocated to the criteria “Structure of the essay” and “Grammar” are relatively lower and this indicates a lower level of emphasis put on writing skills. Overall, the design of the rubric suggests that the instructor has greater emphasis on the content–specific cognitive skills, in proper alignment to the learning objectives he/she has set for the course.

Some instructors may also want to allocate a certain percentage, such as 5-10% of the total marks as discretionary bonus points to reward students for work done above and beyond the required norms dictated by the instructor. Doing so gives students the creativity and flexibility to explore beyond the criteria defined by the instructor and get rewarded for putting in additional efforts to enhance the standard of their work.

Technically speaking, when rubrics are used for grading purposes, the students’ overall grades do not constitute an assessment for learning. This is because different students who attain the same grade may have strengths and weaknesses in different areas (and the weighting of each criterion would further magnify this effect).

You can refer to some grading templates shared by the Teaching Excellence Awards recipients and nominees here (link).

The websites of Kathy Schrock (link) and University of Wisconsin-Stout link) are also useful resources on rubrics for assessment.

Bibliography:

  1. Schrock, K. (2012). Assessment and Rubrics. Retrieved from http://www.schrockguide.net/assessment-and-rubrics.html
  2. School of Education (n.d.). Rubrics for Assessment. Retrieved from University of Wisconsin-Stout website http://www.uwstout.edu/soe/profdev/rubrics.cfm

Last updated on 26 May 2017 .