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Rubrics. Yes? No? Maybe…

July 25, 2010

Instructional design work is increasingly standardized. As this happens, data is collected to measure student learning outcomes and rubrics come into play. Lots of them. Instructors use these rubrics (charts with a rating scheme for each element of an assignment) to evaluate student work.

Rubrics provide a way in which the instructor can compare the quality of student work against a set of specific criteria. Ideally, if you have several sections of a course running, each with a different instructor, all will evaluate student work similarly using a standard rubric –  if two different instructors each evaluated Student A’s assignment using the same rubric, their individual evaluations would be the same.

There are pros and cons to the use of rubrics.

Rubrics can be helpful.

  • Rubrics encourage a more objective evaluation of a student’s work, reducing the possibility of comparing students to each other instead of the learning objectives.
  • Have you ever taken a course or submitted a paper and received a letter grade with no details about how that grade was determined? Rubrics can take some of the mystery away from the student’s perspective by clearly stating expectations making the grade seem less arbitrary.

Rubrics can be limiting.

  • Creating accurate ones that measure student learning of a specific outcome is not an easy thing to do. This process requires evaluation of the rubric itself to find out if it is reliable and valid.
  • The use of rubrics may result in less creativity from students working to check-the-box for each of the expectations presented in rubric categories and criteria.

Questions to consider:

  • Are rubrics always appropriate and effective? Think about types of assignments here – performance tasks, creative writing, etc. and context.
  • Who prepares the rubrics? I’ve experienced the hire of an assessment expert, assignment to instructional designer, and assignment to subject matter expert. Rubrics can also be found ready-made and there are online ‘rubric makers’.
  • What about reporting? Are rubric scores/ratings useful beyond the classroom to drive changes in curriculum at a higher level?

It could be argued that while rubrics can and do serve a real purpose, there is a point at which they can become too prescriptive. In this case, the focus becomes the measurement itself. There is a personal piece to learning, something more organic, where a student puts together knowledge and gains skill through his or her own unique set of experiences. Static rubrics can also reduce the ability of the instructors to assess student work from their unique perspectives and expertise. Difficult to capture these things via rating scale. What are your thoughts on pros and cons, your successes and challenges with rubrics?

Resources for your continued exploration of assessment and rubrics:

Image credit: stock.xchng

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