Rubrics: Only for Grading?

Rubrics: Only for Grading

That’s what they were first developed for (clear back in the ’70s, would you believe), and in the beginning they were used to assess written work. Now teachers are finding them useful in assessing a wide range of classroom activities and assignments: oral presentations, Web creations of various sorts, graphic designs, debates, online discussions, and wiki contributions only start the list. One of the primary motivations for using them has been that they shorten grading time. The article referenced below cites other authors who suggest that they shorten grading time by up to 50 percent. Rublee, the author of this article, claims that they saved her hundreds of hours. (p. 202)

Research (some of it referenced in this article) has also shown that the use of rubrics results in greater grading consistency. And although these benefits are important, just as valuable is the way rubrics “force professors to clarify goals and expectations.” (p. 200) They face teachers with really fundamental questions, such as what makes this paper, group activity, or class discussion good? Most professors sort of know what they’re looking for in a paper; they’ve graded lots of presentations so they do know a good one when they hear it, but that’s not good enough when the need is to create a rubric. Doing so significantly clarifies thinking about the goals for activities and assignments, and the standards that will be used to judge the extent to which student work achieves those goals.

Rubrics can be created hastily and sloppily. They do more damage than good when they are. If the criteria are inconsistent and descriptions of performance criteria vague, that only serves to confuse students and reinforce their propensity to think that doing well on an assignment is simply a matter of figuring out what the professor wants. If the rubric focuses on assignment details, that encourages students to focus on the details. They may have a perfectly formatted paper with correct citations, appropriate margins, headings at the designated levels, and content that is abysmal. Author Rublee notes that creating a high-quality rubric takes times—that’s one of the costs associated with using them. She writes that making a good one “is not an administrative task, but rather an intellectual effort that requires time and energy.” (p. 200)

Time saved grading must be weighed again the time it takes to create a high-quality rubric. However, that balance tips in favor of rubrics when teachers realize that rubrics aren’t just for teachers. They can be learning devices for students. Students don’t have to wonder about a teacher’s expectations. The characteristics of their work that will merit a high grade are laid out. “One of the most powerful analytical benefits of rubrics is that they can help produce ‘mindful involvement’ on the part of students—without which student performance can be likened to ‘a ship without a rudder—in motion, but out of control.’” (p. 200)

Rublee recommends encouraging students to use assignment rubrics as they complete their work. A rubric filled out by the student can be attached to a paper draft submitted for feedback. Using a rubric to assess completed work helps get across the message that grades are earned, not some sort of gift from the instructor. She also recommends peer review using rubrics. The rubric categories give structure and specificity to the feedback peers provide. The exchange provides students with useful feedback at the same time it teaches them how to offer constructive commentary. When Rublee has peer reviewers use a rubric to provide feedback to a classmate, she has them identify themselves by name. It motivates them to work on being helpful, not just critical, and it’s preparation for how peer review is practiced in most professional arenas.

Finally, Rublee sees value in involving students in the creation of rubrics. As with teachers, the process encourages students to think deeply about what’s really important in an assignment or activity. It also creates a sense of ownership, and that can be motivating. Now it’s not just what the teacher wants in the assignment; instead, the class has had a role in deciding what criteria will be used to assess their work.


Rublee, M.R. (2014). Rubrics in the political science classroom: Packing a serious analytical punch. PS, Political Science and Politics, 47 (1), 199-203.

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