Continuous Improvement


What are rubrics?

Rubrics, also commonly referred to as rating scales, are increasingly used to evaluate performance assessments. Much is written about rubrics these days, and a great deal of information is available on the Web. There is a growing number of ready-made rubrics for teachers to download. Some sample rubrics for second language assessment are included in the Examples section, and we will increase this collection by gathering rubrics from teachers. Some of the many rubrics-related resources are listed in the Resources section.

The origins of the word “rubric” date to the 14th Century: Middle English rubrike red ocher, heading in red letters of part of a book, from Anglo-French, from Latin rubrica, from rubr-, ruber red. Today a rubric is a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests (Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Brookhart, in her book How to Create and Use Rubrics (2013), defines a rubric as: a coherent set of criteria for students’ work that includes descriptions of levels of performance quality on the criteria. When using a rubric to assess student work, it is important to remember that you are trying to find the best description of the student work that you are assessing. Effective rubrics identify the most important qualities of the work, AND have clear descriptions of performance for each quality.

Why use rubrics?

When we consider how well a learner performed a speaking or writing task, we do not think of the performance as being right or wrong. Instead, we place the performance along a continuum from exceptional to not up to expectations. Rubrics help us to set anchor points along a quality continuum so that we can set reasonable and appropriate expectations for learners and consistently judge how well they have met them. Below are several reasons why rubrics are helpful in assessing student performance:

  • Evaluating student work by established criteria reduces bias.
  • Identifying the most salient criteria for evaluating a performance and writing descriptions of excellent performance can help teachers clarify goals and improve their teaching.
  • Rubrics help learners set goals and assume responsibility for their learning—they know what comprises an optimal performance and can strive to achieve it.
  • Rubrics used for self- and peer-assessment help learners develop their ability to judge quality in their own and others' work.
  • Learners receive specific feedback about their areas of strength and weakness and about how to improve their performance.
  • Learners can use rubrics to assess their own effort and performance, and make adjustments to work before submitting it.
  • Rubrics allow learners, teachers, and other stakeholders to monitor progress over a period of instruction.
  • Time spent evaluating performance and providing feedback can be reduced.
  • When students participate in designing rubrics, they are empowered to become self-directed learners.
  • Rubrics help teachers assess work based on consistent, agreed upon, and objective criteria.
  • Well-designed rubrics increase an assessment's construct and content validity by aligning evaluation criteria to standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment tasks.
  • Well-designed rubrics increase an assessment's reliability by setting criteria that raters can apply consistently and objectively.

(Fiderer, 1999; Goodrich Andrade, 1997; SRI International-Center for Technology in Learning, 1997-2002; Eighmey's Think Tank; Kasman Valenza, 2000;, 2000-2002; Tedick, 2002)


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