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Rubrics! an Equity-Minded Practice

Lyda McCartin
February 01, 2022

I’ll be honest, I haven’t always loved rubrics. When UNC students first started asking for them, around 2008 I think (I arrived in 2006), I didn’t understand why they needed a rubric (and I cringe when I remember thinking “I was never given a rubric, why do they need a rubric?” - yikes!).

I had the idea that rubrics stifled creativity and would hinder students’ ability to think for themselves. I soon realized though, that I had expectations that I wasn’t telling my students, and this was negatively impacting their grade and their learning. 

Admittedly, my first foray into rubrics was to simplify grading and provide clear expectations. They were teacher-centered rubrics (Ragupathi & Lee, 2020). While these were great for me, they were less helpful for my students. After some reading on developing and using rubrics I shifted to more formative rubrics that helped me to provide better feedback to students on where they could improve (and yes, also help with the grading load).

Ultimately, using rubrics in an equity-minded grading practice (Feldman, 2019; Ragupathi & Lee, 2020). For Feldman, “what makes rubrics such a valuable strategy for equitable grading is that what distinguishes one score from another is explicitly described. With a rubric, the teacher’s considerations and definitions of quality are now made manifest for everyone to access. The students don’t have to guess or infer how to succeed” (2019, p. 189). Additionally, rubrics hold us accountable because they "force[ ] us to share the target, to describe what it means to hit the target and what it looks like to fall short; it ensures that we leave that target where it is so that everyone can hit it” (Feldman, p. 190).

I now love rubrics and find that they can help me with my grading load and help me provide more formative feedback to students so that they know where to improve. I like providing students with a rubric for a rough draft so that they can go through it to determine where to spend their time for the final draft. I also like having peers use the rubric to provide feedback; they get experience with reading and understanding the rubric while participating in collaborative learning.

The best rubrics are detailed and include multiple areas for assessment of students’ progress. The first step to writing a rubric is to determine what you want to assess. I have the most experience with essay or literature review rubrics. So to start, I think about the individual aspects of the task – introduction, discussion, use of sources, analysis, citation style, etc. Those become my rows. Then I think about the levels of achievement, for example proficient, mastery, etc as my columns. The more levels you have, the more detailed and nuanced the rubric gets. I’ve gone up to five levels, but I think four is a good number. It really depends on the assignment. It’s here where you want to be careful of your language. Look at these two scales and consider how a student might react differently to them:

Unacceptable, Marginal, Proficient, Distinguished
Not Yet Competent, Partly Competent, Competent, Sophisticated

Who wants to be told they are unacceptable or marginal? Yikes! I like the second one because it implies that the goal is competence and sophistication and that one may not be competent yet, but they will be; the second scale helps support a growth mindset!

Once you have your criteria and your scale you fill it in! Sounds easy, but it can take a while to write out what you think the difference is between competent and sophisticated. I’ll be honest, I haven’t mastered rubric writing. I think the biggest tip I can give is to know that the rubric is never finished. Once you use it, you’ll know where you need to clarify things and make changes. You can use student feedback about the rubric  and you can review the feedback you give to students and the common issues to determine where you can add more clarity to the rubric.

Recently I started developing rubrics with students, rather than just giving them a rubric to follow - I dubbed this collaborative rubric design. This has been an amazing learning experience and students note loving the process! You can read more about this experience in a book chapter co-authored with my colleague Rachel Dineen. In the chapter I discuss my first attempt at collaborative rubric design - it was a success and a failure all at the same time. If you like using rubrics and use them regularly, consider co-creating one (but read that chapter first for some pro-tips!).

This post may not have convinced you to drop everything and make rubrics, but perhaps it’s peeked your interest. For more research on rubrics and for support writing rubrics check out the reading list below and/or contact CETL for support.

Further Reading

Andrade, Heidi G. “Using Rubrics to Promote Thinking and Learning.” Educational Leadership 57, no. 5 (2000): 13–18.

Andrade. “Teaching with Rubrics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” College Teaching 53, no. 1 (2005): 27–30.

Andrade, Heidi G., and Ying Du. “Student Perspectives on Rubric-Referenced Assessment.” Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation 10, no. 5 (2005): 1–11

Balch, David, Robert Blanck, and David H. Balch. “Rubrics-Sharing the Rules of the Game.” Journal of Instructional Research 5 (2016): 19–49.

Brookhart, Susan M. How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading. Alexandria: ASCD, 2013.

Dawson, Phillip. “Assessment Rubrics: Towards Clearer and More Replicable Design, Research and Practice.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 42, no. 3 (2017): 347–360. 

Feldman, J. (2019). Grading for Equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms. Sage.

Fluckiger, Jarene. “Single Point Rubric: A Tool for Responsible Student Self Assessment.” Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin 76, no. 4 (2010): 18–25.

Panadero, Ernesto, and Anders Jonsson. “The Use of Scoring Rubrics for Formative Assessment Purposes Revisited: A Review.” Educational Research Review 9 (2013): 129–144.

Ragupathi, K. & Lee, A. (2020). Beyond Fairness and Consistency in Grading: The Role of Rubrics in Higher Education. In Diversity and Inclusion in Global Higher Education Lessons from Across Asia. Catherine Shea Sanger Nancy W. Gleason (Eds). Palgrave. https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.12657/23168/1006985.pdf

Stevens, Dannelle D., and Antonia J. Levi. Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback and Promote Student Learning. Sterling: Stylus, 2013