In the February 2005 issue of The Teaching Professor appeared a nice summary of an article by H. G. Andrade entitled “Teaching with rubrics: The good, the bad, and the ugly,” featured in a recent issue of College Teaching. Here is an adaptation of the article, with some additions.

A rubric is an evaluation grid listing criteria for evaluation and articulating gradations of quality for each criterion. Rubrics offer numerous advantages to faculty who use them for student papers and projects. Rubrics are superior to checklists because rubrics define what professors deem excellent work and distinguish it in clear detail from poor work. Rubrics can be used exclusively for evaluation by the professor, but they can also be an instructional tool when handed out to students in advance and explained.

What exactly can a rubric accomplish?

  1. Precision.

    Rubrics help you become very precise in defining your goals.
  2. Coherence.

    Rubrics make instruction more designed and coherent. Once you have articulated your criteria precisely, you are more likely to teach towards those criteria and students are also more likely to be focused on those criteria. Content and readings can become more supportive of the goals you actually want students to attain.
  3. Clarity.

    Rubrics can help students understand what is being asked of them and why. They also help students distinguish between excellent, acceptable and poor work.
  4. Quality information.

    Rubrics enable teachers to give more informative feedback. You can construct your rubric so that there is room for you to place comments as well as a score.
  5. Guide for students.

    Rubrics can also be used as the bases of formative assessments and self-assessments.
  6. Fairness.

    Rubrics help to keep your grading fair, consistent and unbiased.
  7. Speed.

    Once you yourself know exactly what you are looking for, your grading becomes more focused and streamlined and moves much faster.
  8. Less hassle.

    When students know precisely how the grade is calculated, they are less likely to argue with you after an exam or a paper.

So what is the down side?

  1. Initial time.

    Rubrics don’t fall out of the sky. You have to create them and that means some thinking time.
  2. Explanation time.

    Rubrics will not be self-explanatory. They require that you spend some time explaining them to students. (But the advantage is that students will produce better work if they truly understand what is being asked.)
  3. No magic bullet.

    Rubrics can’t substitute for teaching. It is helpful if students understand what your requirements are, but you still have to teach them how to fulfill those requirements. Students still need models, feedback, and opportunities to ask questions, to think and to revise.
  4. No quality assurance.

    Rubrics are not automatically good rubrics. You must still be sure that your criteria for evaluation are reasonable (valid) and consistent (reliable).
  5. Minimization of effort.

    Students may work only to the rubric and not push themselves beyond. You can control for this in part by letting students know that you will also add points to their score for originality, for deeper thinking or for whatever other intellectual activity you want to encourage.