Rubrics: Defining Features

Rubrics
Twenty years ago, many faculty didn't know what rubrics were, but today they are well known and widely used, both in practice and research. And like many other instructional innovations, they have come to be used and defined differently. Dawson (2017) aspires to sort through these definitional vagrancies and explains that “Rubrics are evaluated, mandated, embraced and resisted based on often imprecise and inconsistent understandings of the term” (p. 347).

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Twenty years ago, many faculty didn't know what rubrics were, but today they are well known and widely used, both in practice and research. And like many other instructional innovations, they have come to be used and defined differently. Dawson (2017) aspires to sort through these definitional vagrancies and explains that “Rubrics are evaluated, mandated, embraced and resisted based on often imprecise and inconsistent understandings of the term” (p. 347). The problem for him is that most educators operate assuming shared understanding. Dawson aims to clarify what rubrics are and how they can be designed: “Rather than seek a homogenous definition for the term ‘rubric', it provides a framework to map out the heterogeneity of potential rubric interventions.” (p. 348) Popham's seminal 1997 article (referenced in Dawson's piece) proposes that rubrics must have three components; evaluative criteria, quality definitions for those criteria at the various levels, and a scoring strategy. Dawson's review of the research and literature on rubrics since then has uncovered 14 design features. Ten of these are highlighted below. His review does not establish the prevalence of these features or make judgments of their quality. However, as this abbreviated list shows, Dawson offers excellent summary of the design options and associated decisions that confront teachers who use or are interested in using rubrics. The article also contains a sample rubric to illustrate some of the design options and features. Dawson's (2017) article is a first-rate resource on rubrics. Each of the design elements appears on a table with references to research and literature that explore that feature. It demonstrates the options available to those who use rubrics and in the process showcases the complexity of this feedback mechanism. References: Dawson, P. (2017). Assessment rubrics: Towards clearer and more replicable design, research and practice. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(3), 347–360.