Rubric Creation and Use

Rubric Creation and Use

A rubric is a tool for evaluating and grading student work; it specifies the qualities or traits to be evaluated in an assignment and describes excellent, average, and below-average performance for each trait. Typically, a rubric is not a generic statement of expectations for student work; rather, it is tailored to describe the specific requirements for a particular assignment.

While rubrics are commonly use to evaluate student written work such as essays and research papers, they can be used for other types of assignments as well, such as oral presentations, posters, portfolios, or major projects. Rubrics can also be used in group projects as a way for team members to evaluate each other’s contributions to the final product.

Most rubrics include several parts: 

  • Traits: the qualities or aspects of student work to be evaluated. Traits are usually expressed as nouns or noun phrases (e.g., “thesis,” “graphic design elements,” “accuracy of analysis,” “eye contact,” “grammar and mechanics”).
  • Performance levels: the categories of performance into which student work will be assigned for a particular trait; for example, Excellent/Good/Fair/Poor; Exceeds/Meets/Fails to Meet Expectations, etc. 
  • Descriptors: Brief descriptions of student work on a particular trait at a specific performance level

Why use rubrics?

For instructors as well as for students, using a rubric to grade an assignment has a number of advantages. A rubric can:

  • Guarantee that instructor use the same standards for all students’ work, preventing grading “drift” over time
  • Specify all traits to be evaluated in student work are specified – no “hidden agendas”
  • Promote equity by ensuring that all students understand the criteria by which their work will be evaluated (for more on the use of rubrics as an aspect of transparency and equity in grading, see this CITL resource on Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT)
  • Serve as a training resource when multiple graders or AIs grade an assignment
  • Make grading faster and more straightforward (although they require time to create)
  • Decrease the number of student complaints about grades
  • Can provide evidence on overall levels of student competence on particular traits to help instructors assess students’ strengths and weaknesses, for their own information or as part of larger assessment efforts

What types of rubrics are there?

There are three general categories of rubrics: analytic, holistic, and single-point. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. In deciding what type of rubric to create, the main consideration should be the instructor’s preference.


Analytic rubrics

An analytic rubric gives a student a separate rating or score on each trait evaluated in an assignment. An analytic rubric is typically organized in a grid, with each trait in a row and each performance level in a column. Each individual cell of the grid contains a descriptor with the characteristics of performance at that performance level on that trait.

  • Time-consuming to create, but can make grading or scoring of student work easier and faster
  • Gives students detailed feedback on various aspects of their work
  • Can include point values for each trait and performance level to facilitate assigning numerical scores to student work
  • Can be created within Canvas to simplify grading, using the the SpeedGrader tool
EXCELLENT
9 – 10 points
GOOD
8 points 
SATISFACTORY
7 points
UNSATISFACTORY
6 points
Answer to the question posed
Paper answers the question thoroughly, in a nuanced and thoughtful way
Answers the question clearly, but at a superficial level
>Answers the question posed, but may ramble off-topic
Paper does not address the question; may be completely off-topic
Research and use of evidence
Uses all available sources of evidence: primary and secondary sources, lecture material, outside research. Outside sources are clearly relevant to the topic. 
Uses all available sources of evidence; outside sources are relevant to the topic but are not used as effectively as they could be.
Uses all available sources of evidence; outside sources are marginally connected to the topic.
Paper fails to use all sources of evidence; outside sources may be missing.
Quality of argument
Argument is clear and convincing; all sources of evidence are considered in the argument; counterarguments are addressed.
Argument is clear but may be a bit vague in places; most evidence is used effectively to support the argument; counterarguments are not addressed. 
Argument is fairly clear, but evidence is not used effectively to support it (argument is thin in some cases); counterarguments are  not addressed.
Argument is off-topic or missing; paper may be entirely descriptive. Evidence is not used to support the argument.
Organization
Strong thesis statement; paragraphs are well-organized with clear transitions and topic sentences
Strong thesis statement; paragraphs are mostly well-organized, but one or two may lack clear transitions.
Thesis statement is present but is not strong; paragraphs may jumble together several ideas; weak transitions.
Paper lacks a thesis statement, or paragraphs lack topic sentences; no clear transitions between paragraphs.
Quality of writing
No grammatical or mechanical errors; phrasing is clear and easy to follow
One or two minor grammatical errors; phrasing is clear.
A few grammatical errors that distract from the paper; some awkward phrasing.
Numerous grammatical errors; phrasing is awkward or unclear.

 

Holistic rubrics

Rather than evaluating each trait separately, as in an analytic rubric, a holistic rubric gives each student one overall score or grade for their work. A typical holistic rubric lists each level of performance followed by a description of student work at that level, incorporating descriptors for all the traits being evaluated. An instructor using a holistic rubric matches an entire piece of student work to the single rubric level that best describes the work.

  • Easy to create, because it reflects how some instructors think
  • Score or grade gives students less specific feedback on their work than an analytic rubric does
  • A good option for large classes, or when only general feedback on student work is required
An essay earning an A:
  • Answers the question thoroughly, in a nuanced and thoughtful way
  • Uses all available sources of evidence; outside sources are clearly relevant to the topic
  • Has a clear and convincing argument, that incorporates all sources of evidence effectively; addresses counterarguments
  • Is well-organized, with a strong thesis statement and well-organized paragraphs with clear transitions and topic sentences
  • Uses clear and polished phrasing, with only 1 or 2 grammatical errors

An essay earning a B:
  • Answers the question clearly, but at a superficial level
  • Uses all available sources of evidence; outside sources are relevant to the topic 
  • Has an argument that is mostly clear, but that may be vague in a few places; most evidence is used to support the argument well; counterarguments are not addressed
  • Has a strong thesis statement and paragraphs that are mostly well-organized; one or two may lack clear transitions
  • Uses clear phrasing, with one or 2 grammatical errors

An essay earning a C:
  • Answers the question posed, but may ramble off-topic
  • Uses all available sources of evidence; outside sources are marginally related to the topic
  • Makes a fairly clear argument, but evidence is not used effectively to support it; argument may be thin in some places; counterarguments are not addressed
  • Has a thesis statement that is adequate but not strong or comprehensive; paragraphs may occasionally jumble together several ideas; transitions weak or missing in some cases
  • Includes a few distracting grammatical errors; some awkward phrasing

An essay earning a D:
  • Does not address the question; may be reflect a misunderstanding of the topic
  • Fails to use all sources of evidence; outside sources may be missing or irrelevant
  • Includes an argument that may be off-topic, or may be primarily descriptive rather than argumentative; evidence is not related to the argument
  • Lacks a thesis statement; paragraphs lack topic sentences; no clear transitions
  • Contains numerous distracting grammatical errors; phrasing is awkward and unclear

 

Single-point rubrics

A single-point rubric is similar to an analytic rubric in that it breaks down performance into separate traits. But instead of providing descriptors for each performance level for each trait, a single-point rubric describes performance only at a proficient or competent level for each trait. It does not specify how performance might exceed or fall short of proficiency.

  • Easy to create
  • Time-consuming to use because instructor must write in a description of how a student’s performance on a particular trait falls short of or exceeds proficiency
  • Provides very specific, targeted feedback
  • Does not require instructor to imagine all the different ways students’ work could exceed or fail to meet expectations for proficiency
Areas where essay has exceeded standards
Criteria and standards for essays earning a grade of B
Areas for Improvement
Answer to the question posed: Answers question clearly, but at a superficial level
Research and use of evidence: Uses all available sources of evidence; outside sources are relevant to the topic
Quality of argument: Argument is clear but may be a bit vague in places; evidence is used effectively to support the argument; counterarguments are not addressed
Organization: Strong thesis statement; paragraphs are mostly well-organized, but one or two may lack clear transitions
Quality of writing: One or two minor grammatical errors phrasing is clear.

 

 

What are the steps in creating a rubric?

  1. Choose an assignment you want to create a rubric for. 
  2. Look at examples of student work responding to the assignment, if available. Reflect on what makes the examples successful or unsuccessful, and what you hope to see in student work.
  3. Based on your reflection on the assignment and your analysis of student examples, determine the traits to be included in the rubric. These questions may help you identify traits. 
    1. What would a very strong response to this assignment look like? What characteristics would it have?
    2. What kinds of mistakes might students make on this assignment? In what ways might their work fall short?
    3. What kinds of feedback do you want to give students about this assignment?
  4. Decide what kind of rubric to create. 
    1. What type of rubric seems most appropriate for the type of assignment you’ve chosen? 
    2. Do you want the rubric to provide a numerical score or an overall grade?
    3. How much detailed feedback do you need to provide for this assignment? 
  5. For analytic or holistic rubrics, decide on the number of performance levels you will include, and label each level (with letter grades, numerical scores, or verbal labels such as Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor).
  6. For an analytic rubric:
    1. Create a grid with traits listed in the left-hand column and performance levels across the top row. Write descriptors for each level of each trait in the cells of the grid. Avoid vague adjectives; instead, list specific things you would look for. It might be easiest to start by writing descriptors for the highest and lowest levels of performance, then filling in the intermediate levels. A simple template for an analytical rubric is provided here. 
    2. If appropriate, make the rubric quantitative by assigning points to levels of performance, and/or different weights to specific traits.
  7. For a holistic rubric:
    1. Write a description of student work at each performance level of the rubric. Make sure the description at each level mentions each of the traits you identified.
    2. It might be easiest to start by describing the highest level of performance, and then modifying the descriptors for lower levels of performance. Alternatively, you could start by describing a level of performance that is “acceptable but not exceptional,” and then modifying the descriptors for higher or lower levels of performance.
  8. For a single-point rubric:
    1. Write a descriptor for each trait at a level of performance that is acceptable but not exceptional. Depending on the levels of performance you have chosen, you might think of this level as “good,” a grade of B, or a level at which students have fulfilled all the requirements of the assignment.
    2. Create a grid with 3 columns; in the rows of the middle column, enter a descriptor for each of the traits you created. The column on one side is for writing in feedback about how the work exceeded the acceptable level for that trait; the column on the other is for feedback about how the work fell short.
  9. Regardless of the type of rubric you create, before you distribute it to students, it is a good idea to apply the rubric to a few examples of student work (perhaps from a previous semester) to confirm that the rubric delivers the grade you think the student work should earn. Are all important traits included in the rubric? Do the levels describe the full range of student work? Are the gradations between levels appropriate? If not, revise the rubric and recalibrate it.

How should I use the rubric?

A rubric is not only a tool for grading student work after it has been turned in; it can also help students focus their time and effort appropriately as they work on an assignment, and it can serve as a formative tool to provide feedback on intermediate stages of student work.

  • When an assignment is made: Distribute a rubric for an assignment along with the assignment itself, before students begin their work. Students can use the rubric to help them understand your expectations and organize their effort accordingly.
  • As students are working on an assignment:
    • Use the rubric to provide feedback to students at intermediate stages of a larger project, or formative feedback on early drafts of papers. Using the rubric in this way gives students a sense of what they still need to work on to succeed on the assignment. 
    • If students will be peer-reviewing each other’s work, they can use the rubric as a guide when giving formative feedback. This strategy not only ensures that the peer reviews are focused on the important aspects of student work; it also helps students become familiar with the rubric.
  • After student work is handed in:
    • Use the rubric to provide feedback on student work and derive a grade.
    • A rubric can serve as a sort of tally sheet to help you keep track of overall levels of student performance, to help you reflect on students’ strengths and areas for further growth. 
    • After using a rubric, it is also helpful to reflect on the rubric itself. Did it include all the traits you wanted to evaluate? Did it accurately describe different levels of student performance? Did the grades or scores derived from the rubric seem fair?

How can I use a rubric in Canvas?

Canvas allows instructors to create analytic rubrics to grade assignments, discussions, and quizzes. Student work submitted online can be graded using the rubric in SpeedGrader. Specific traits in the rubric can also be attached to pre-defined learning outcomes (e.g., for reporting data for Gen Ed or department or school level assessment).

To learn more about rubrics in Canvas, see the Canvas Instructor Guide or IU’s Technology Toolfinder


Where can I see other examples of rubrics?

The links below provide more information about creating and using rubrics, and they include examples of rubrics from a variety of disciplines and for different kinds of assignments.


For more assistance with creating or using rubrics in your teaching, contact the CITL for an appointment.