How does my rubric look?

This is the question I continue to receive from faculty very frequently: “How does my rubric look?” My answer has changed over the years. Earlier in my career, I used to pay attention to the clarity of the language and the point distribution in the rubrics and provided my feedback accordingly. But, later in my career, I have hesitated to provide an answer right away. Many faculty shared their experiences about their rubrics over the years. One of the comments was “Well, the rubric looked great, but it just did not work for this particular case.” Another comment was “The rubric limited student’s potential by minimizing the expectations.”  Last common comment was “When I have added certain criteria into the rubrics, I have thought that they are required expectations but did not think that now I needed to assess them. It takes too much work, and it is not even the most important component I am trying to assess”. These comments were some indication for me to consider that a rubric which may work well in one situation may not work in another situation. After borrowing a rubric from a source and just knowing that it worked in one course may not guarantee that it will work in your course. So, when I receive the same question on rubric nowadays, I follow a “Socratic” approach rather than providing an answer. Below is my hypothetical conversation with the faculty.

Instructor: How does my rubric look?

Me: Can you tell me more about your assignment and what you are trying to assess?

The instructor provides a brief explanation of the assignment.

Me: Do you think that you are assessing everything you intend to assess?

Instructor thinks about it and says either yes or no.

Me for Yes: Great! So, if the student passes the assigned benchmark level in the rubric, the performance will be acceptable, and the student will be considered as successful with some room for improvement, correct? (This part is critical. If the acceptable becomes the highest performance level, students may be inclined to perform less than expected).

Me for No: Why do you think that? Do you believe certain areas do not align with the learning objectives? How can we fix them? (Providing the importance of alignment between the learning objectives and assessments are crucial. Many instructors and even scholars out there unfortunately still approach the course design in silos of course objectives, content, assessment, rubric, and grades without considering the alignment.)

Once the instructor starts to focus on what needs to be assessed in the rubric aligned with the learning objectives and assigning proper levels to the rubric, the rubric starts to look fit for the assessment purpose. This is the moment the instructor may say grammar and clarity are important but writing skills are not what should be assessed in this assessment. The students should have developed those skills long time ago. Although writing skills are not assessed, the lack of clarity and grammar errors could still affect the assessment score if the rubric is developed properly. At this point, I continue to ask the questions, if I continue to see areas that may not be clear from an external view. One last question, I ask the instructor to imagine the best performance, acceptable performance, unacceptable performance, and other performance levels in between and evaluate if the rubric will allow the instructor to assess these performance levels accordingly. These performances could sometimes be hard to imagine. However, this exercise is important to assure the rubric allow the instructor properly assess student’s performance. In the end, however, every rubric needs to be tested in an actual course with the actual students, and necessary improvements need to occur. The answer to the question of how a rubric looks depends on what is to be assessed and cannot be answered without the knowledge of the course context.

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