Rubrics to the Rescue

What Are Rubrics

Students have been known to refer to rubrics as "those things with the little boxes", while teachers know rubrics as a set of scoring guidelines that evaluate students' work and provide a clear teaching directive. Rubrics are a powerful, authentic tool used to assess students' work. This scoring tool lists specific criteria for a project or piece of work. The criterion helps students to have a concrete understanding and visualization of "what counts". Each standard or criteria also includes a gradation scale of quality. The rating scale could be numerical, qualitative, or a combination of both. Rubrics seek to evaluate assignments based on the sum of a full range of criteria rather than a single numerical score.

Rubrics aren't an assessment alone - but also a teaching and learning tool. They convey the teacher's expectations and they provide students with a concrete print out or electronic file showing what they need to do for the specific project. Typically a teacher provides the rubric to students before an assignment begins, so students can use the rubric as a working guide to success. They explicitly describe what concepts and characteristics take priority over others within the assignment. After an assignment is assessed, rubrics enable students to understand why they received a score based on the criteria provided on the rubric. Rubrics can be used in any subject area - math, biology, physical education, economics, geography, writing, and all other areas of the curriculum. Rubrics can also be adapted and used with students of all ages. Rubrics may be used by a teacher to assess a student, a student to assess a peer, or a student to self-assess their own work.

Types of Rubrics
Formats of a rubric may include analytical and holistic. Some rubrics may also be weighted.

Analytical Rubrics

  • Break down the various objectives of the final product into specified components
  • Evaluate individual components independently
  • Possess extra details that allow multiple grades to emphasize the same criteria

Holistic Rubrics

  • Assess students' work globally "as a whole"
  • Often use anchor points that assign value to specific descriptions or performances which contribute to the whole
  • Have fewer details to analyze, and are easier to integrate into the schema of younger students
  • Do not provide detailed information about students' performance in specified areas within the assignment

Weighted Rubrics

  • Typically are a form of an analytical rubric
  • Judge certain concepts more heavily than others
    For example, if a teacher stresses the plot of a story, he or she might consider weighing the plot segment of the rubric more heavily than the setting, character, or mechanics.
  • Focus attention on specific aspects of an assignment

More on Types of Rubrics
No one type of rubric is "better". The choice depends on the type of assignment, age of students, and preference of the teacher. The most important factor is simply that the criteria are clear. A rubric's strength lies in its specificity.

Individual students may fall between levels (attaining some but not all standards in a specified level). Some teachers find that using a plus or minus sign helps to bridge this gap, thereby creating more levels between the various gradations (for example, between beginning and proficient).

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