This post is co-authored by Jessica and Sherri.

In a previous post, Jessica introduced the benefits of rubrics as grading tools and provided tutorials on building electronic rubrics in Blackboard.

However, it is difficult to build a good rubric that meets your needs while also saving you time.  A complicated rubric can make your grading more difficult and time-consuming. This applies whether it’s a Blackboard rubric or a paper copy.

The key to effective rubrics is to keep them simple and specific enough so that both you and your students can understand them. In this post, we will walk through a process for developing your own rubrics.

Develop Your Criteria

The primary thing you need is your list of criteria. These are the essential components that students must have in their work to demonstrate their learning and their ability to meet your expectations (Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2007).

One way to start developing your criteria is to ask, “What do I want students to know and be able to do?” It may also be useful to think about the components that you would expect to see in an A paper or project.

Searching online for rubrics from your discipline can provide you with ideas and inspiration. You may want to check out Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators. This site includes a section on Assessment and Rubric Information that is filled with different rubrics for various assignments and mediums.

Your criteria will vary depending on the nature of each assignment, but some general examples include:

  • Identifying the main topic or purpose
  • Supporting arguments with reliable sources
  • Providing a thorough and accurate analysis of the work
  • Tailoring the message to the intended audience
  • Writing clearly and effectively

After brainstorming possible criteria, try to refine your list to those 4-5 elements that you truly consider essential to the assignment. Remember, the more criteria you have, the more complicated your rubric will become.

Select the Different Levels of Achievement

Once you create clearly defined criteria for what you want students to do, you need to determine the levels by which you will measure students’ achievement of your expectations.

Sometimes, a simple checklist format may be all you need: students can be assessed on whether certain components are complete or incomplete (thus, you will have only two possible levels of achievement).

Other assignments may require more detailed levels of achievement. It’s best to choose the rating scale that you feel best describes the students’ performance levels based on your criteria.

Examples of more detailed rating scales include:

  • Points (i.e., 1 – 10 scale)
  • Descriptions of proficiency (unsatisfactory, novice, proficient, advanced…)
  • Descriptions of quality (insufficient, needs work, sufficient, good, excellent…)
  • Letter grades (A – F)

Letter grades can be especially effective because students are already used to receiving assessment feedback this way.

Describe the Difference Between Good and Great

You and your students will get the most value out of your rubrics if you clearly define and describe the different levels of achievement for each criterion. These descriptions help both you and your students to evaluate the quality of the piece by assessing where it falls along a logical progression toward the ideal goal.

For example, in the rubric shown below, the criteria of “identifies the main topic” goes from “no clear topic”, to “implied,” “somewhat defined,” “defined,” and finally to “clear, specific and relevant.”

Like the rest of your rubric, these descriptions should be simple and specific. Students should be able to identify exactly what they need to do to achieve success.

When you describe the different levels of achievement on your rubric, you and your students can evaluate where their work falls along a logical progression.
When you describe the different levels of achievement on your rubric, you and your students can evaluate where their work falls along a logical progression.

One strategy you could employ when writing your descriptions is to start with either end of one of your criteria. For example, consider what an “F” submission might look like for that criterion. Then, compare that to an A submission for that criterion. Draft succinct descriptions of each.

Once you have your two extremes, consider the small changes that would improve the quality or bring it down a level. This should help you with developing descriptions for each level of achievement for each criterion.

When you have drafted all of the descriptions, take a look at each progression from the lowest to highest levels of achievement. Does it seem logical from a student’s point of view? Do your expectations increase evenly across each level? If not, revise your descriptions until you’re satisfied with the results.

Test Your Rubric

Once you have a solid draft of your rubric, it can be helpful to test it to make sure that it is a useful grading tool for you.

If you have offered the same assignment before, use the rubric to try evaluating submissions you have received from previous students.

If it is a brand new assignment, ask a colleague or any member of the ID team to look it over and provide feedback.

Once you make any changes to your rubric based on your testing or feedback, you should be ready to begin sharing it with your students! Students may offer useful feedback as well, so you might find that you want to refine your rubric further. Like anything else, it can become a living document that can change each semester you teach.

More Resources

If you would like some more information about rubrics, the following resources may be useful:

Middle States Commission on Higher Education. (2007). Student learning assessment: Options and resources. Philadelphia, PA.  [The section on rubrics begins on page 42.]

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators:  Assessment and Rubric Information.  [Though this resource focuses on the needs of K-12 educators, many of the resources here can be used as a starting point.]

If you would like help with developing rubrics that align with the specific needs of your course or assignments, you can always contact the Instructional Design team for a one-on-one consultation.

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