Rubrics: The Rhyme and Reason

Written by Austin Pierre Palaad
August 6, 2019 • 2 minute read

As an instructor, you may feel that you have already done your best to clearly communicate your work expectations to students. A student that feels they received a lower grade unfairly will often become frustrated and believe that their instructor is grading inconsistently at best, and arbitrarily at worst. It is highly likely that neither of these accurately describes your grading process.

However, without implementing clear and explicit standards, your expectations will always be subject to student interpretation. Rubrics are a common and effective assessment tool for removing the student misconception that there is no rhyme or reason to an instructor’s grading process. Traditionally, these are presented in table format with a detailed breakdown of grading metrics. Rubrics vary based on the given subject material, but some common characteristics include focus on measuring an explicit objective and using a range to rate performance.

A rubric is equally beneficial for teachers and students. You will save time evaluating student work by having concrete metrics established beforehand. The transparent nature of rubrics allows students to evaluate and understand your grading criteria, which can be subjective and complex. This enables you and your students to work towards a mutual and explicit understanding of what exactly is expected from student work. It can be very effective to integrate student feedback into subsequent rubrics, creating a refined and dynamic assessment that students both understand and are personally invested in.

The different metrics of your rubric will vary based on the subject material and the type of work being evaluated. For example, it is not advisable to use the same metrics to evaluate a take-home essay that you would for an in-class essay — the difference in environment and necessary mastery of the course material require different metrics for evaluation. Creating the ideal rubric is a forever ongoing, flexible process of receiving and implementing feedback. To help you get started, here is an example of a seven step method for creating and using a rubric to score a writing assignment:


  1. Have students review sample papers of varying quality and identify what is successful and what isn’t.
  2. Create a list of criteria to be used in the rubric and facilitate student discussion about what metrics define “quality” work.
  3. Create a scale that delineates levels of quality (worst to best) or development (beginning to mastery), and develop a hierarchical progression that succinctly describes what level of quality or development correlates to what metric.
  4. Have students do sample grading on model papers using the rubric.
  5. Ask for self and peer-assessment.
  6. Revise the work based on that feedback.
  7. Use teacher assessment — in other words — using the same scoring rubric that students used to assess their work.

Source: Goodrich, H. (1996). “Understanding Rubrics.” Educational Leadership, 54 (4), 14-18.

Are you or someone you know finding success with creating effective rubrics in your classroom? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email to share your story.

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