Educational Effectiveness and Institutional Research


The term “Rubric” comes from Latin and the common practice in liturgical documents to print the words to read aloud in black and to print the rules for the conduct of the services in red. A rubric need not be overly structured or strict. A composer might note “a piacere” on a score, to indicate that the performer should ad lib in that section. In theatre, “blocking notes” provide meaningful information to the actor about the character or scene. We would never expect a these notes, however, to become the end of the actor’s character development. Likewise, in education, rubrics provide useful information to the student about expectations, while not limiting further development of instructional and learning elements.

Rubrics can serve the evaluation of specific assignments as well as the overall development of proficiency and accomplishment. To that end, there are various names and classifications of types of rubrics: Instructional rubrics; Analytical rubrics; Developmental rubrics; Grading or Task specific (aka Scoring rubrics); Holistic (or “generic”) rubrics; and Weighted Rubrics. You can express most any evaluation or set of guidelines as a rubric.

Brookhart (2013) defines rubric as “a coherent set of criteria for student work that describes levels of performance quality.” That description should reveal the depth of appreciative responses to student performance. While the matrix is the most expected format for a rubric, there are alternative formats in the literature.

Similarly, some people use the term “rubric” as synonymous with “checklist” as if the checking of boxes would somehow amount to actual appreciative evaluation of student work. The content of a rubric should be both informative about an upcoming assignment as well as a structured process for providing detailed formative feedback for students on their work. A worthy rubric is helpful for attentive students as they think through their approach to the assigned task. Well-constructed rubrics provide insights on how to avoid common mistakes on learning tasks.

Some people use the term “rubric” exclusively (and somewhat inappropriately) to refer to assignment standardization, quantification of grading, and a means of increasing grading consistency (especially across courses and instructors). While some consistency and standardization across courses and instructors has value, we would never want to rob students or faculty of their unique expression or approaches. We would never expect two vocal scores to have exactly the same tessitura. We will expect and appreciate that both works and every individual performance of those works will have uniqueness. A rubric that does not allow for variations in appreciative judgment and accomplishment is rarely useful.

Designing instructional rubrics is instrumental for helping professors think through their course design. Excellent rubrics will often inspire professors to be innovative about lesson planning and teaching 


Rubrics- Four Major Facets

  • Focus first on the qualitative criteria for the evaluation of the assignment. Each criterion deserves a full definition and explication on the rubric. Without clear expression of the qualitative elements of the evaluation of student performance, the resulting scoring (or rating) is little more than a single unrefined judgment. In the ideal, the explication should include linkage of each of the criteria to a course, program, or university learning outcome.

  • Focus second on descriptions of the levels within the qualitative criteria. Here the goal is to express the types of discernments that distinguish development in achievement for each criterion for the assignment. Typically, the levels start with a “benchmark” of what is unacceptable or minimally acceptable work on the criterion. Then, the levels progress across what are the major “milestones” in achievement for each criterion (e.g., differences between mundane vs. expressive language choices). The description of the levels progress with what would be excellent or outstanding work (e.g., imaginative and memorable language choices). Description of one or more levels of unacceptable work adds insight into the evaluation of student performance. The focus should be on specific levels of behaviors or performance (while not eliminating creativity in performance or appreciative evaluation).

  • Focus third on the appropriate weights for the levels within each criterion (aka the scoring strategy). Not every evaluation fits neatly on a five-point scale. In an ideal “scale,” the levels would be exhaustive and mutually exclusive. That is, the levels give detail about the full range of performance on each criterion and establish clear boundaries between levels. In the ideal, the levels would have the same weight (e.g., a score at the second level would be exactly half of the score at the fourth level). The reality, however, is that the boundaries between levels will be fuzzy (at least at first). Similarly, some levels will be more essential or likely to occur. Considering the weights of the levels in this way will inspire the refinement of levels (and even the elimination of some levels). The number of levels appropriate for the evaluation of different criteria may also not match. That is, make the levels match the content. Attempts to force levels just to have a set number of levels can result in invalid scoring. Remember, quantification is only valuable if it represents qualities.

  • Focus fourth on sharing and receiving feedback on your use of the rubric. In the ideal, any rubric should emphasize disciplinary standards over individual preferences. It is rare, however, that anyone thinks the disciplinary standards are simply algorithmic. Great rubrics stimulate dialogue between students, teachers, and others who care about quality education. Peer, student, and self-review are essential to refining a rubric but only if the focus is on expressing disciplinary standards. Students can help to identify redundancy, ambiguity, and vagueness in the levels on the criteria. Other faculty can often reveal weaknesses in the application of a rubric (especially if they experiment with the use of the rubric). Making improvements based on pilot tests for assignments or courses and “calibration” of the use of rubrics keeps the use of a rubric sharp. Teachers can use the feedback to improve their own expectations for student work.

The combination of facets should form a valid representation of a student’s performance on the assignment or learning outcome.

The Problems with Rubrics

  • Cookie cutter rubrics (often downloaded from some site). If faculty did not adopt a rubric to fit within an instructional design, it will likely be an added unnecessary burden for all involved. Think of such rubrics as unwanted gifts from an out of touch relative.
  • Rubrics qua rubrics. Useful rubrics are unlikely to emerge from administrative fiat. On the other hand, professors can destroy their credibility if they have no grading criteria (i.e., a rubric) or they fail to admit to having actual grading criteria.   
  • A surprise rubric. Students need instruction, familiarity, and practice with a rubric before they do the actual assigned work. A rubric that suddenly appears after the fact is little more than punishment.

Sample Rubrics

Creating a Rubric Online

For help with creating a rubrics, try

RubiStar or  The University of Denver rubric guide.

            You can also create rubrics in Blackboard that will link to assignments; that way the student sees the rubric at the same time and place they see the instructions for the assignment, and where they will upload it.



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