Assessment rubrics: How to ensure learning success

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Written by: Ruth Martín
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Teaching: a profession as rewarding as it is complex. Getting to know your students, searching for the best resources, creating new ones, thinking about the best approaches to teaching your class, and let’s not forget everyone’s favorite… assessment!

Because let’s face it: it makes no difference whether you teach primary or secondary school, art or science. When it comes down to it, evaluating your students takes more time than you would like.

Luckily, there are good tools out there that can simplify this process for you. And not only that, but they can also allow you to improve the quality of the feedback you give to your students and pave a path towards the learning objectives. We’re talking about assessment rubrics!

What is an assessment rubric?

A rubric is an assessment tool that consists of defining the criteria that are evaluated within a task or skill and the levels of achievement or fulfillment of these criteria. This info is laid out neatly in a table, which makes the evaluation process much simpler.

In the first column of the table, we put the criteria that will be taken into consideration to carry out the assessment, and in the first row we’ve got the levels of achievement. To each of these levels we assign a numerical score. In each cell of the table, we explain the qualities that the student’s work should possess in order to be assigned the particular level and score.

And rubrics aren’t only for assessing comprehension of content. They’re also a great tool for measuring the acquisition of new skills. Especially if you work with approaches such as Project-Based Learning (PBL) or Learning Landscapes, in which student participation is encouraged above all else.

In this case, it might be of more interest to you to assess teamwork, for example. So your assessment criteria might focus on aspects such as responsibility, enthusiasm towards new challenges, the performance of each role within the team, problem-solving, etc.

Rubrics are another example of how valuable using new technologies in education can be. Creating, editing, and using digital rubrics is much, much easier than doing it by hand. If you consider how much time you’ll save, it’s worth having a go.

Types of assessment rubrics 

Rubrics can be holistic or analytical. We’re going to take a look at a couple of practical cases to learn how to make your own rubrics and how to apply them.

For example, imagine your students have to create a timeline. In the rubric you create to evaluate it, you’ll need to define which aspects will be assessed (e.g. presentation, spelling, resources used, etc.) and the different levels of achievement.

These levels of achievement can also be called assessment indicators. They can take the form of traditional school grades (A, B, C, etc.), or you can use terms such as excellent, good work, could be better, etc. This is an analytical rubric.

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‘Ok, this assessment rubric stuff seems great and all, but let me just quickly remind you that I’m a teacher, and a lot of the time there just aren’t enough hours in the day.’

Well, for those times of the year, you can always turn to the holistic rubric, which is the same as the analytical rubric we just showed you, but much simpler and quicker to design. Perfect for an overall evaluation of students’ performance when it’s not necessary to assess every aspect in detail.

Rubrics are gaining popularity, and it’s no surprise to us. When they are well defined, they provide benefits to both students and teachers. They’re very practical and allow you to improve your evaluation process, and also your students’ involvement and performance. Let’s look at what advantages they offer.

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Advantages of using  a rubric

  • Advantages of rubrics for teachers
  • Standardized evaluation criteria. Grades are more objective, because now they don’t depend, or at least not as much, on the teacher that’s assessing them. 
  • They reduce evaluation fatigue. Defining the criteria ahead of time makes correcting easier. You don’t have to think about how to evaluate, just mark the box with the evaluation that most resembles the work you’re correcting.
  • Improved objectivity and transparency: a teacher can defend or support their evaluation in the event of any concerns.
  • They make the assessment process much quicker.
  • They make it easier to align learning objectives with the teaching strategy more precisely.
  • Advantages of rubrics for students
  • They allow for auto-evaluation.
  • Students know what they need to do and what the teacher wants. Rubrics guide them and let them know what to work on.
  • They help students take responsibility for their learning and take an active part in it.
  • They improve general results, as students make an effort to give their best.
  • They promote co-evaluation with and between students and the exchange of opinions, improving social skills and communication.

How to create a rubric

  1. Define the assessment criteria in the first column of the table. The idea is that they coincide with teaching objectives. What skills, actions, and behaviors do we want to strengthen in our students?
  2. Define the possible evaluation levels in the first row. We recommend not having more than 4. If there are too many, you might find yourself with a very complex rubric that you don’t really want to use when it comes to it. 
  3. Describe each one of the performance levels. This part may take a little longer because for the rubric to work well, the levels must be clearly defined with no room for ambiguity or interpretation.

For example, it won’t be useful to establish a criterion that states that an essay is ‘well presented’. You need to be specific: ‘correct margins, no crossing-out, and good handwriting’. Your experience and your knowledge of your students will be a great help. You know what average work looks like,  what’s unsatisfactory, and what’s above average in your class.

Some advice? First, describe the levels on either end (minimum and maximum). Once you have those, it’ll be easier for you to write the intermediate ones.

  1. Review how well your rubric works before you apply it. Don’t worry. You wouldn’t be the first to debut a lovely rubric only to discover that it doesn’t work as well as you thought it would and needs some tweaking. Especially if you share it with your team or your students.

But hey! Remember you can make infinite changes to your geniallys and they update automatically 😉 

Don’t forget that assessment rubrics exist to make your life easier and take some weight off at exam time. So it’s worthwhile creating them with great care and attention. It’s like anything else: the first rubrics you design will be that bit harder. Maybe you’ll have too many criteria, or you might not explain them perfectly.

But don’t despair, you’ll be a rubrics whizz in no time, and when that time comes, we’re certain that they’ll save you looooots of time when assessing your students (and you’ll become that teacher-influencer that inspires others with their great rubrics).

Ruth Martín
Ruth Martín
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