Writing the Right Rubric: Tips and Tricks

As an adjunct professor you may be confused about how to assess your students' work.  You want a process that ensures fairness, objectivity, and clarity and results in students' learning from the assignment and your assessment.  One tool that you may want to use to achieve these goals is a rubric.

What are rubrics? Rubrics are tools used for grading that are frequently used to grade presentations, papers, or speeches where grading could turn subjective. Rubrics contain detailed performance standards and objectives, and are typically distributed to students with the assignment.

As the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching notes, "The primary purpose of the rubric is to standardize the assessment and provide more consistent grading. The rubric also serves as an effective communication tool between the faculty member and the students by outlining expectations in advance. Students will clearly know and understand the standards that are expected for each grading level." Thus, rubrics can be considered both a tool for assessment and learning, as it allows students to evaluate and improve the quality of their work.

So how do you create a rubric? Your rubric must be both valid and reliable. A good rubric should have four key qualities: it must (1) address all relevant content and performance objectives that will be judged, (2) define standards and the levels of mastery for standards, along with discrete criteria that students can use to evaluate their own work, (3) be easy to understand and use, and (4) yield consistent results, even when used by different scorers. Some good online tools for constructing rubrics are Rubistar, a free online tool that allows professors to choose a template and create rubrics, or Rubrix, which allows teachers to create 3-, 4-, or 5-level rubrics.

However, regardless of whether you choose to use an online tool or create your rubric in Microsoft Word, rubrics should include levels of mastery going from left to right in columns, and rows of performance objectives. As the student reads from left to right across the row, the level of mastery should decrease; in order to facilitate understanding of the rubric, use parallel language and ensure that syntax and word choice correspond across columns. In addition, if you have an indicator described in one level of mastery, it needs to be mentioned in the next category, whether it is about "having" or "not having" that quality.

Rubrics  help instructors ensure that their assessments and are fair, objective, and clear and that the expectations for learning and performance related to the assignment are communicated with students.