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Assessment with rubrics

Last updated on 24 May 2023
A rubric helps you to assess students' products and skills, for example when giving feedback or grading an assignment or presentation. But what is it and how do you apply it?

Let’s review a case study: biology teachers ran into the problem that practical assignments were often time-consuming to evaluate. To do this faster and more effectively, they decided to make a rubric for it. They discussed together their expectations for each level, how they apply the rubric and looked at sample reports. The rubric provides them with a more transparent and consistent process and makes it easier for students to understand what is expected of them. 

1. What is a rubric? 

A rubric is a tool for assessing and providing feedback on your students' performance and skills. A rubric provides a list of criteria that, together with a scale of points or level descriptions, indicates how well the student meets each criterion. You can use a rubric for assignments, papers, a thesis and presentations, for example. You can make rubrics for one assignment, but also for an entire course, a curriculum, or a programme. 

 A rubric also gives students insight into what is expected of them and how you assess their work. In addition, a rubric gives you, your fellow teachers, and the student insight into learning development and learning performance. 

2. Why use a rubric? 

Using a rubric has many advantages, here are some of them. A rubric: 

  • supports the process of achieving transparent, reliable, valid, and consistent assessment;
  • makes the assessment process more efficient because it clearly indicates which aspects of the work are important and how they will be assessed;
  • ensures that, as a teacher, you focus on the main points;
  • creates a common framework and language for assessment and promotes shared expectations and assessment practices, for example when teachers from this course develop a rubric together;
  • enables efficient assessment of complex products or behaviours;
  • can prompt substantive discussions between lecturers or between lecturers and students;
  • helps teachers to give feedback in a way that is constructive and useful for students, because it clearly indicates the strengths and weaknesses of the work;
  • makes the assessment process transparent to students in advance, this helps them to prepare properly because they know what is expected of them;
  • helps students to improve their work (feedback, feedup and feedforward) because it clearly indicates how they can adjust their work, this promotes self-reflection and self-direction in students;
  • creates a fair assessment process. By defining what is assessed and when a certain level is achieved, different teachers are more likely to give the same assessment to a student;

Tip: it takes some time to make a rubric, but the efficiency and time gained during the assessment process will make up for this.  

3. Types of rubrics 

There are different types of rubrics, these are the two most important ones for your teaching: 

  • The analytical rubric. This contains at least two assessable features per level of performance and gives a separate score for each of these features. For example, a score for spelling and a score for content. This is best used when you want to visualise students' strengths and weaknesses and provide detailed feedback. The disadvantage is that this form is time-consuming.  
  • The holistic rubric. This rubric is more general and gives a single score based on overall impression. You can use this rubric when you want a quick snapshot of performance and when one dimension is good enough to define the quality of students' work. The disadvantage is that it does not give detailed information about performance, besides, it can be complicated for a teacher to arrive at an overall score. 

4. What does a rubric look like?

Rubrics are at most one or two pages long and consist of four basic components: 

  • a rubric is shaped like a chart;  
  • the rows contain the assessment criteria: the skills, knowledge, or behaviour you expect from students;
  • the columns contain the levels or scores. The labels you use for this should be clear, for example: 
    • Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory, Good, Excellent 
    • Not acceptable, Needs improvement, Acceptable, Good, Excellent 
    • Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert 
    • 1, 2, 3, 4 
    • E, D, C, B, A 
  • The fields contain a description or instruction of a performance or task at a particular level of a criterion.  

Tip: be sufficiently specific, but again not too detailed. Therefore, limit the criteria or rows, do not use enumerations in the cells and describe qualities and not quantities. 

Want to know more about how to create and apply a rubric? Read this teaching tip! Or take a look at an example rubric used for Modern Developments in Pharmaceutical Sciences at VU Amsterdam.