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  • Writer's pictureTara O'Brien

What are Rubrics?

A rubric is a scoring tool which describes expectations for authentic assessment, performative assessment, oral presentations, participation, effort etc. and uses a scale of typically 3-5 levels to determine performance. Rubrics can be developed using standards, instructional objectives, and/or goals and describe what students must demonstrate via the 3-5 leveled scale. A rubric is typically broken down into component parts, demonstrating different aspects of an assignment. Descriptors are included for each level of the scale of each component part. A rubric helps teachers to more transparently, consistently, reliably, and objectively grade student work (Chowdhury, 2019). Chowdhury (2019) notes that rubrics help students to understand expectations (Bolton 2006), provides useful and timely feedback (Song, 2006), helps to maintain consistent and fair assessment, and helps students to engage in more objective self-reflection to better understand their strengths and weaknesses (Bolton, 2006). Jonsson and Svingby (2007), Penny, Johnson, and Gordon (2000), Silvestri and Oescher (2006), and Wolf and Stevens (2007) demonstrate that the use of rubrics creates more reliable and transparent assessments as well as positively impacts learning and student performance (Chowdhury, 2019).

General Versus Task-Specific Rubric Types

General and task-specific rubrics differ in design and purpose, but both serve an important assessment function. General rubrics include general dimensions, are rated on a scale of 3-5, and include descriptors that could fit multiple tasks. General rubrics are normally developed to grade basic knowledge and/or skills that students need to develop to accomplish many different types of tasks. Thus, teachers may use the same general rubric to grade multiple tasks. Similarly, students become accustomed to using the same rubric to self-assess or reflect on their progress towards achieving non-task specific outcomes. General rubrics are shared with students before completing the assessment task. Task-specific rubrics are created to grade a specific assignment. Task-specific rubrics include dimensions and descriptors relevant to a task-specific assessment. Task-specific rubrics facilitate reliable scoring as they are developed for assessing a specific task. Task-specific rubrics are typically not shared with students before submission. General rubrics and task-specific rubrics each serve a role in assessment and support learning.

Compare and Contrast Analytic and Holistic Rubrics

Holistic rubrics evaluate dimensions simultaneously and are primarily used for summative assessment. Holistic rubrics provide less information on particular areas for improvement, but give a single score. This is why holistic rubrics are most appropriate for scoring summative assessment. Analytic rubrics evaluate dimensions and criteria separately and are primarily used for formative assessment. Analytic rubrics require more time to score than holistic rubrics but provide useful formative assessment data to teachers and students. Students are able to use specific information provided by analytic rubrics to improve their performance. Both assessment types are appropriate to classroom teaching, however teachers often prefer analytic rubrics (Chowdury, 2019). This is likely due to the fact that analytic rubrics provide more detailed information for lesson planning and goal setting purposes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Analytic and Holistic Rubrics

There is one notable advantage to using holistic rubrics. Holistic rubrics are simple to design and score and require limited planning time on the part of the teacher. The primary benefit of holistic rubrics is that they require limited time. There are two key disadvantages associated with holistic rubrics. Holistic rubrics provide limited assessment information about students. Detailed assessment data is crucial to planning, goal setting, and effective feedback. Holistic assessment provides limited information to use in targeted feedback for students. Actionable, timely, and targeted feedback are crucially important to learning and holistic rubrics do not provide detailed data for these discussions. Furthermore, holistic rubrics may leave students feeling confused about their scores, which can lead to the feeling that the assessment was unfair. This feeling of mistrust can negatively impact the motivation of students.

Analytic rubrics have two important advantages. Firstly, analytic rubrics provide students and teachers with a lot of useful assessment information. Thus, teachers are able to provide students with clear targeted feedback. Teachers can also use assessment data to plan more targeted instruction to meet the educational needs of their students. Secondly, analytic rubrics provide a breakdown of why the student was given a specific score. This promotes a feeling of fairness. Students understand exactly why they were given a particular score as the analytic rubric is so detailed.

The disadvantages of analytic rubrics relate to time. Analytic rubrics take significant time to develop as the teacher must consider what performance looks like in each dimension of the scale and write specific descriptors. Furthermore, the teacher must think about all of the possible ways that a student may or may not demonstrate competency. Thus, effective rubric design also requires time to master. Grading via analytic rubric also requires significant time as the teacher must consider each dimension when assessing student performance.

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