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Using a Rubric Does NOT Ensure Student Learning

*Disclaimer: Not all rubrics are bad and when written and used effectively with proper feedback can be useful to help students know what they have learned.

Ten years ago in my career, rubrics were all the rage. No more "subjective" grading, now we're going to show kids how they're doing. The rubric makers were popping up online for free and so the shift began. 

On the surface, it seemed awesome. Made grading easier, just had to circle boxes and let the descriptors speak for themselves. 

But dig a little deeper and it's easy to see, this practice like most other traditional grading practices aren't as helpful as one would hope or expect.

Now, I'm guilty of what I'm about to talk about... again, back in my earlier career enlightenment hadn't really come yet and I always looked for "easier" ways out. Being so overburdened with the challenges of a novice teacher in the inner city. 

Too often, my rubrics included columns that had nothing to do with learning, but rather with compliance or neatness or creativity... things that shouldn't be quantified as a level of achievement, but certainly simply to take points off for. 

Once the rubrics were made, it awesome to whiz through a project and circle spots on a grid with a couple of really non-specific things written - usually reasons why points got taken off on the rubric in the notes section. Then I'd tally up all of the points and determine a grade based on the grid. 

Definitely a little embarrassed by my lack of understanding at that time, but there were so many kids and I didn't know how to provide all of them what they needed. I believe this takes time.

Check out this short video on effective rubrics:

First, we need to ask ourselves who should be creating this rubric? Should the students be involved in creating a rubric for the assessment? Do we do it as a class or do we allow students to write them independently? Should teachers create them?

After we are able to determine who should be in charge of creating the rubric, then we must determine what they are going to address.

Here are some tips:

  • Each category or line item should be aligned with a specific skill or expectation of content knowledge and then connect with a standard

  • Rubrics should NOT focus on compliance based factors like time management or following directions

  • Students should understand the delineation between each level of learning. If standards are being used, what does E (exemplary) look like or M (meets standards) or if a number scale of 1-4 is being used, how are the levels of mastery shown?

  • Make sure students understand all of the elements of the rubric, standards included before they begin an assignment

  • Keep rubrics simple - both in language and content

  • Do NOT grade creativity in any way

  • Provide space to give specific feedback to every child above what the rubric is providing

  • Always provide strategies where appropriate to enhance or develop weaker areas of learning

  • Since content knowledge is easy enough to find online most of the time, try to keep some kind of synthesis element as a part of how students show knowing and how you respond to it.

  • Always allow students to set goals, reflect, self-assess, and provide feedback to the teacher using the same rubric when completing an assignment.

  • Use rubric feedback to help students develop a plan for specific growth in a particular area. Ask students to track their own progress.

  • Do NOT have points associated with any of the categories and do NOT average a score based on a rubric

  • Encourage a dialogue about learning with rubrics where students can ask questions of specific determination of mastery level and be prepared to help them understand why they are where they are and not just because you said so.

Giving feedback for learning is an art form and formative assessment is essential to student growth. If we are using rubrics as tools to help students grow as learners then they can't be a lazy excuse to make a teacher's life easier. Instead, they should enhance the learning experience or foregone completely.

How do you use rubrics? How do you ensure their efficacy? Please share

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in July 2015

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