Evaluation Rubrics

I’ve been asked to sit on a panel in January to discuss evaluation.  One of the topics under discussion will be the use of rubrics to evaluate student work.  I’m curious about others’ experiences with using rubrics.

I have no idea how I’d manage without rubrics.  I sometimes decide to “give myself a break” by reducing feedback on less critical evaluations to general grades and comments in a few categories (usually content, organization, expression and formatting) instead of filling out a detailed rubric with criteria and subcriteria.  I usually regret it.  A table with checkboxes for each criterion and a space for comments is the easiest, most efficient and most mathematically neutral (which is not to say actually mathematically neutral, because evaluations never are, but as close as possible) way to give students some meaningful feedback and a numerical grade.

Each sub-criterion receives a grade between 1 and 5.

  • 5/5 = excellent!
  • 1/5 = WTF?
  • 0/5 = this essay shows no evidence that you were even aware that this criterion was being evaluated, despite the fact that you had this rubric in front of you while you were writing it.

Each category is then weighted according to its importance in that particular assignment.  Major essays in post-introductory courses are usually weighted more toward content, while a first version of an essay in a remedial intro course might emphasize grammar.

These rubrics are immensely helpful when students come to ask questions (as they are all required to at least once a semester in order to revise and resubmit), and when students challenge a grade.  Just this past week, a student came to me ready to burst into tears about an oral presentation grade.  I was able to say, “Ok, there are two different ways of looking at this.  The first is, ‘I’M UPSET!!'” (I wave my arms in the air and shake my fists.  The student laughs.)  “The other is, ‘I don’t understand why I didn’t do well on this particular aspect that I got 2/5 on.’  Let’s try the second approach.”  So we talked it through, and in the end, she got it, and no adjustment to the grade was made, because frankly, the presentation, although a valiant attempt, was a structural mess.  She didn’t know what was meant by that, and now she seems to understand a bit better.

Teachers: Do you use rubrics to evaluate your students’ work?  How do you structure them?  Do they help you?  Do they help your students?

Students: Do your teachers use rubrics to evaluate your work?  What kind of rubric best helps you learn?

You will find some more thoughts on the use of rubrics here.

Image by Steve Woods

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22 responses

  1. My entire history department uses the same set of rubrics. This has been wonderful in creating a level of consistent feedback throughout the department and helps each of us stick to a set of standards that we all deemed necessary when we sat down and made them. Each year we reevaluate the rubrics and adjust them but overall it has made grading and getting feedback on our grading and giving feedback to students more efficient.

    • Malkire: I often wish our department had common rubrics. That said, we are a very large department with many generations and temperaments of teachers, and coming to an agreement on evaluation practices would be painful, if worthwhile…

  2. My use of rubrics has been delayed, time consuming and evolutionary. At the end of the day they most often confirm my “gutt feel” grade and by using them I have specifics to share when giving student feedback (and it makes the grading process so much faster!). I would love to hear what students have to say about them.

  3. I have rubrics for some classes but not for all. Writing is the hardest to grade so I am looking for something that will work better for me. Seems like I have to create everything for almost all of my classes – in part because I have created a number of my courses from scratch, without a book.

    We end a marking period this Friday and begin a new one on Monday so I am STRESSED to say the least. Add to that, our Supt. will be observing us teachers (there’s only 5 of us) next week, first week of new marking period so that is weighing on my mind.

    Assessment is all the talk and our Supt is hammering us on doing more assessment. Good luck with the project!

    • Tar-Buns: Yes, rubrics can be very time-consuming to construct. I have a bunch that I alter a bit according to each assignment. It always involves working backward from what I expect them to do – so, for example, I might give 10 points for an introduction with grabber, thesis and preview statement, 10 points for topic sentences, 10 points for logical connections between ideas in paragraphs, 5 points for conclusion w/ summary statement and clincher…and I even find myself changing things a bit when I sit down with the first essay. Also, I have been using tables in Word to lay them out, and there has to be a better way.

      I sure hope your stress lifts a bit once the new marking period begins!

  4. I don’t use them enough. When I do, I find grading goes more smoothly. When I don’t it is definitely harder for me to explain why a grade is low. My biggest problem is that I don’t think students often look at or try to understand the rubric, they simply look at the final grade and say “why did I get this?” That’s frustratin.

  5. I like using rubrics but I usually create a format for the kids to follow. It helps them if they follow the format. It does make grading easier but I can only put so much in the rubric. I usually write the kids explanations, too.

  6. I use rubrics for essays at all levels, but I supplement the circlings and mathematical outcome with comments. I rarely use rubrics for anything else. I have often looked at other teachers’ rubrics, but don’t really use them. I like building my own.

  7. I want to use rubrics more, but with paper becoming harder to come by in my school district, I just can’t justify printing 200 rubrics to grade a single essay assignment (I teach 7 classes). I’ve gone to digital submissions more and more and use turnitin and edmodo to grade.

    • TG: I usually fill out my rubrics onscreen and email them to the students along with their paper w/ corrections and comments. I have a repetitive strain injury in my writing arm that makes it almost impossible to write anything by hand. I have tried the GradeMark system on Turnitin but found it terribly awkward, so now students submit on Turnitin but I download the file and correct it in Word.

  8. I have used rubrics for some time now. For the most part I like it. The expectations are very clear to the students and I feel I can easily hold them accountable. The only problem is that sometimes a paper will be bad in a way I could not have anticipated and is not adequately represented on the rubric. Then I feel beholden to the rubric. It is almost like I need a category that reads “this paper lacks something, but the instructor can’t quite pinpoint what” or “you have managed to do poorly in an unanticipated way.” So they work mostly, but not as perfectly as I would like.

    • DMC: I sometimes find myself puzzling over how to wedge something into the rubric when it’s not really there. I have found that most things can be classified under content, organization or expression somehow.

      For example, I occasionally run into improper citation that is not exactly plagiarism. Recently, a student analyzed a single text and reproduced all her quotations from that text without quotation marks. They were followed by page numbers, and she had used quotation marks for them in her original version – the fact that they were missing in her new version was truly bizarre. This is obviously a serious issue, but is not explicitly accounted for in the rubric for that assignment, and I didn’t think a 0 on the paper (the penalty for “real plagiarism”) was appropriate. So I gave her 1/5 in expression (6/30 overall) and so she ended up failing the paper. She was upset, but she got it, and I can be pretty sure that this student won’t do that again!

  9. Am I the only one who is frustrated with rubrics? I am an ESL teacher working in primary school, and a recent graduate of a B.Ed. program. Firstly, when I was a student in the B.Ed. program, I was frustrated with the use of rubrics by my internship supervisors, as, frankly, I found that they made it really hard to get an A. This was because every criteria was evaluated out of 4, which meant that, unless you were perfect on that criteria, you only got 75% (3/4) for that category. Ultimately, it made for a lower grade overall because of all those 75%s. Secondly, as a teacher, I have been obliged to use a rubric designed by authorities higher up in the system, and it has been a terrible experience. There is nothing worse than a poorly-designed rubric. You are stuck with it, and no one fits. While I agree that it is helpful to be able to clearly define your grading criteria, I think it is extremely hard to design a good rubric that everyone fits into, and which allows students to get an A!

    • –You’re not the only one. I’m also an ESL teacher, at a small Beijing uni, and am finding grading very problematic.

      –I think we’re dealing with a problem of basic assumptions, both in your B.Ed. program, and in grading students in general. The interpretation for some teachers of 100% is ‘this is what the expert would produce’ which winds up meaning that a 100% score is equivalent to the teacher’s best effort. Hence teachers are hesitant to provide such a mark, on the rare occasion they are tempted to.

      –With such a system, students are prepared to put their best effort into reproducing something an ideal student might do (i.e. meet the teacher’s golden expectations) but are unlikely to respond to further feedback than is meted out according to the grade. A+’s are stashed in one drawer, C’s another, and the student only digs through to find exactly what could be fixed if it is in the interest of challenging the grade.

      –How horrible if we as teachers of writing should convey to students that a good paper is the one which received good marks, not the paper which they continued to work through until its mistakes were minimized and its strengths shone forth. A project-based system with a grading rubric of ‘below standard’/’at standard’/’above standard’ with appropriate comments would better prepare our students to keep writing until they become above-standard writers.

  10. I have had trouble in the past with the grading aspect of rubrics (per Jessica’s frustration). I found that I had a feel for the grade that the student should receive, but my rubric didn’t always come up with the same grade I did–often far too low. However, without the objectivity of the rubric, it can be difficult to guide student progress and difficult explain the grade that I know instinctively belongs to the paper.

    And yes, there have been times when the student’s (or students’) needs have been completely off the rubric, and not necessarily because they were so bad or so good, just so different!!!

    Two ways I have countered those problems:
    Problem 1) I have worked on adjusting the rubric such that the criteria are sufficiently weighted without completely destroying a student’s grade, often by giving a certain percentage of the grade simply for completion of the assignment. With 30-50% of the paper’s grade protected, the rubric’s score can then be used to accurately comment without unfairly ignoring the work put into the paper (with 50% being a failing grade already, the rubric can still fail the student if the the something the student turned in was completely off-topic and off-base).

    Problem 1) Sometimes I think of things in an A, B, C, D, or F mentality instead of numbers. I am sometimes a bit challenged when it comes to number systems, so thinking of things at their value–A (excellent), B (solid/good), C (basic/average), D (poor/below average), or F (failed this assignment)–before assigning a number grade helps me sometimes. I often structure my rubrics around this scheme before putting the number values into the rubric.

    Problem 2) At times I have given the grade I feel (based on the quality of the work or the completeness of the student’s grasp of the assignment) and then, instead of using a rubric, I give 3 positive comments and 3 things to work on.

    As for canned rubrics, I have found the 6+1 Writing traits rubrics to be VERY helpful in teaching and evaluating writing. Although they often need a little modification for my own needs, their general applicability really helps when explaining and then grading the quality of writing!

  11. I find creating rubrics actually helps ME in determining what I actually want to mark. If I’m struggling to create a category for something, I start thinking, “Huh… can I actually mark this with a clear conscience, or am I just being way too subjective in how I approach this assignment?” For me, I use lots of rubrics for things like problem-solving, student-led marking, and performance tasks. There’s only so much I can objectively quantify into short-answer questions, and for everything else, there’s a rubric to be made.

    Plus, as you said, students do much better and are much more informed when they can see their own rubrics before they finish the assignments (better yet, before they start).

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