Creating and Using Rubrics
A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly describes the instructor’s performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. A rubric identifies:
- criteria: the aspects of performance (e.g., argument, evidence, clarity) that will be assessed
- descriptors: the characteristics associated with each dimension (e.g., argument is demonstrable and original, evidence is diverse and compelling)
- performance levels: a rating scale that identifies students’ level of mastery within each criterion
Rubrics can be used to provide feedback to students on diverse types of assignments, from papers, projects, and oral presentations to artistic performances and group projects.
Benefitting from RubricsA carefully designed rubric can offer a number of benefits to instructors. Rubrics help instructors to:
- reduce the time spent grading by allowing instructors to refer to a substantive description without writing long comments
- help instructors more clearly identify strengths and weaknesses across an entire class and adjust their instruction appropriately
- help to ensure consistency across time and across graders
- reduce the uncertainty which can accompany grading
- discourage complaints about grades
- understand instructors’ expectations and standards
- use instructor feedback to improve their performance
- monitor and assess their progress as they work towards clearly indicated goals
- recognize their strengths and weaknesses and direct their efforts accordingly
Examples of Rubrics
Here we are providing a sample set of rubrics designed by faculty at Carnegie Mellon and other institutions. Although your particular field of study or type of assessment may not be represented, viewing a rubric that is designed for a similar assessment may give you ideas for the kinds of criteria, descriptions, and performance levels you use on your own rubric.
- Example 1: Capstone Project in Design This rubric describes the components and standards of performance from the research phase to the final presentation for a senior capstone project in design (Carnegie Mellon).
- Example 2: Engineering Design Project This rubric describes performance standards for three aspects of a team project: research and design, communication, and team work.
- Example 1: Oral Exam This rubric describes a set of components and standards for assessing performance on an oral exam in an upper-division course in history (Carnegie Mellon).
- Example 2: Oral Communication This rubric is adapted from Huba and Freed, 2000.
- Example 3: Group Presentations This rubric describes a set of components and standards for assessing group presentations in history (Carnegie Mellon).
- Example 1: Discussion Class This rubric assesses the quality of student contributions to class discussions. This is appropriate for an undergraduate-level course (Carnegie Mellon).
- Example 2: Advanced Seminar This rubric is designed for assessing discussion performance in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar.
See also "Examples and Tools" section of this site for more rubrics.
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Why is it Important?
By choosing your learning outcomes and corresponding major assignments first, you are identifying essential content and attainable expectations for what you want your students to be able to do by the end of the course. This assignment-driven course, then, will likely look very different from a coverage-centered one in which topics are listed and scheduled. Instead, course content and practice activities are chosen to prepare students to successfully complete those assignments which measure essential knowledge, skills or attitudes (KSA). Of course, assignment-driven learning experiences depend on the assignments being effectively structured and timed.
How Do I Get Started?
- Effectively measure at least one learning outcome in the course.
- Are designed at an appropriate level of challenge with adequate preparation (practice with parts of it in and out of class) and support (online resources and samples, in class feedback prior to grading, etc.) provided.
Are as authentic as possible, i.e., similar to real problems/situations that professionals in your field face; expect students to use authentic tools, processes or skills to invent potential solutions.
- Require judgement; rely on provided resources; afford opportunities for peer/self-assessments with time to revise/redo; include a mix of convergent (correct answers, use of concepts, etc.) and divergent (innovative, problem-solving, critical thinking, unique) tasks, require a mix of individual and team work if task is often done in groups in authentic settings)
- Are structured in ways that reduce plagiarism and procrastination.
- Include peer review and self-assessment opportunities (prior to submission) based on characteristics of excellent work.
- Offer a variety of ways to practice and learn, not just exams, essays and research papers.
- Are significant enough to promote targeted, deep learning, without being longer or more robust than needed to fit the learning outcome (more frequent, focused assignments with targeted feedback can contribute more to learning than fewer, larger/longer, more time-consuming assignments)
- Provide detailed prompts and descriptions of the assignment, which communicates to the students the purpose (why?), procedures (how and when?) and standards (what?) for the expected product.
Communications to Students
When developing the communications about each assignment for the students, include the AMPS: (Walvrood, Effective Grading)
- A = who is the audience for the "project?"
- M = what is the main point and purpose of the assignment?
- P = What patterns and procedures are required?
- S = What are the standards and criteria that will be used to evaluate the "project?"
What Are Some Examples?
Authentic assignment examples
(Adapted from Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences and others)
•Team projects that simulate ones carried out in real-world settings
•Product development tied to professional settings
•Writing of many types required in related fields
•Case study analyses on real-world problems
•Science lab reports
•Proposals for new initiatives based on trends or data, written to real or hypothetical groups (e.g., city council, non-profit foundation, etc.)
•Presentations to simulated or real-world target audiences
Other unique assignment examples
(Suskie, Assessing Student Learning; Walvrood, Effective Grading; Nilson, Teaching at Its Best)
- Abstract or executive summary
- Annotated bibliography
- Brochure or pamphlet
- Case study analysis
- Field notes/observations
- Infographic or other visual aid, such as a diagram, chart, mind map
- Handbook or instructional manual
- Journal or log of practicum experience
- Letter to an editor
- Dramatization (skit, script, simulation, role-play)
- Reflection on what and how one has learned
- Review and critique of performance, exhibit, work of art, poem, one's own work
- Analysis of survey results
- Budget with rationale
- Imaginary dialogue between real or historical characters
- Lesson design for a specific audience
- Project management plan
- Analysis of situations familiar to the student in which a concept is applied
- Work of art
- Performance of hands-on skill, such as career and technical skills tied to training, motor skills such as in sport, clinical skills for health workers
- Free writes in response to prompts in class
- Technology-supported written projects such as blog posts, wiki constructions, web page resources
- Technology-supported speech projects such as podcasts, video clips, or online narrated tutorials
What Are Additional Resources?
In Sauk Library
Nilson, L. (2010). Teaching at its best (3rd ed.; especially Chap 17)
Nilson, L. (2015) Specifications grading. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub.
Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd ed.; especially Chp 10). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Walvrood, B. & V. Anderson (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
These could be standard research papers (any length), essays, or reflection papers, or they could be technology-supported writing products such as a series of blog posts, wiki constructions, or web page resources. In addition, there are many shorter, engaging writing-to-learn assignments, such as some listed in the examples section above. If quality of the writing is to be included in the evaluation criteria of the assignment, these resources can provide useful guidelines for these types of assignments:
Cornell University's Center for Teaching Excellence: Writing Assignments
Faculty Focus: Keys to Designing Effective Writing and Research Assignments
University of Maryland University College: Effective Writing Center: Writing Assignments
These could be standard individual speeches/presentations, group presentations, interviews, or debates, or technology-supported speaking products such as Camtasia or Jing-narrated tutorials, YouTube video clips, podcasts, etc. If the quality of the speaking is to be included in the evaluation criteria of the assignment, these resources can provide useful guidelines for these types of assignments:
University of Southern Mississippi: Speaking Center: Designing Your Speech Assignment
Critical Thinking or Problem-solving Assignments
These assignments may involve speaking or writing as part of the final product, but the emphasis is clearly on demonstrating higher-order thinking in the development of the assignment content or in the production of the product itself. They can be larger, multi-part projects such as lesson plans, design projects, major case-study analyses or proposals, but they can also be smaller, lower-stakes assignments such as article critiques, lab reports, focused literary analyses, weekly analysis responses applying new concepts to an event or situation familiar to the student, etc.
Critical Thinking Community: A Sample Assignment Format
Lane Community College: Critical Thinking/Problem-solving (see section 5 "Critical Thinking/Problem-solving Assignment Content Criteria")
These may be standard writing or speaking assignments that require extensive library research, or a wide variety of smaller, integrated assignments designed to give students a variety of research experiences using tools or strategies relevant to your discipline.
Sauk Library Presentation: Creating Library Assignments
University of Maryland: University College: Tutorial for Developing and Evaluating Assignments
Temple University: Improving Student Research
Rubric for evaluating handouts describing library research assignments (PDF)
More detail on this topic can be found in the Assessment area of this web site.
Association for the Assessment of Learning in HIgher Education: Sample Rubrics
University of Wisconsin-Stout: Rubrics for Assessment (for many alternative types of assignments)
4Teachers.org: Rubistar (make your own rubric or edit others online)
University of Southern Mississippi: Assessing Speeches Effectively
University of Southern Mississippi: Grading Rubrics and Critique Forms
Linda Nilson, College Teaching, 51:34-38: Improving Student Peer Feedback
Teaching in Higher Ed.com: Assessing and Tracking Blogs