Humboldt State University

Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching

Learning & Teaching Tips

Rubrics as Learning Guides

“It is amazing how much better my students’ work has become as my expectations and guidelines become clearer.” – A faculty member reflecting on the use of assessment rubrics

I know that feeling. When no one is clear on what’s expected, everyone worries about the grade (the only indicator). When the assessment process is clearly articulated, learners are able to focus on the learning and the experience, and usually surpass my expectations. Over the years, as I have harmonized my course designs, linking objectives and outcomes with specific projects and reflecting these in guidelines, descriptions and assessment rubrics, I have felt the focus of my courses change. By using rubrics and scoring sheets to make the assessment process more transparent, the focus shifts from test-taking and grade anxiety towards learning, effort and excellence.

Here are just a few of the advantages:

  • Learners can see exactly what they are expected to do to get the grade they want (they become responsible for their learning) and can move towards mastery learning.

  • Questions and meetings about grades given drop to zero (or near zero, depending on how the rubric or grading sheet is introduced, used and developed)

  • Assignments, projects and learning experiences are richer and more creative as learners interpret, reinvent and re-conceptualize ways to meet the articulated expectations.

  • Limits or eliminates the “Will this be on the test?” questions.

  • Assessment guidelines provide an objective reference point that allow learners and faculty (learning facilitators) to assess work and discuss how to improve it (and/or why a grade was given)

  • Keeps everyone (learner and faculty alike) ‘honest’ and objective in how they assign grades to various components of a project/activity.

  • Supports learners in developing critical skills as well as the ability to self-assess, peer-assess and think about their learning process (metacognition).
  • “Rubric” is the term applied to the most detailed and comprehensive of these assessment guides. In simple terms, a rubric shows how learners will be assessed and/or graded. In other words, a rubric provides a clear guide as to how ‘what learners do’ in a course will be assessed. In formal terms, the following provides a standard definition: A scoring rubric is a set of ordered categories to which a given piece of work can be compared. Scoring rubrics specify the qualities or processes that must be exhibited in order for a performance to be assigned a particular evaluative rating. – Peter McDaniel (1994), Understanding Educational Measurement.

    Rubrics come in different types (holistic, analytic, general and task-specific) and are designed for different purposes (overall course evaluation reference, skill/competency/component assessment, feedback guidelines), and are designed for use assessing various outcomes (assignments, activities, products, projects, presentations, performances, practica, portfolios, etc.) by different people (faculty, learner, peers, colleagues). They support formative and summative assessment and guide the learner’s growth and improve the quality of the learning products, activities and experiences. To understand the different dimensions of a rubric and how one is constructed, see this Rubric for Rubrics (, or use it to evaluate your own.

    Here are a few of the steps for creating your own rubric:

    1. Identify the type and purpose of the Rubric – What will you assess/evaluate and why?
    2. Identify Distinct Criteria to be evaluated – Which objectives/expectations do you want to highlight? (Pull details from your course/assignment/activity descriptions, making distinctions between criteria clear).
    3. Determine your levels of assessment – What will be your range and scoring scales? Will you link them to simple numeric base scores? Percentages? Grades or GPAs?
    4. Describe each level for each of the criteria, clearly differentiating between them – How will you differentiate between the levels of expectation for each criterion? (To develop clear descriptions for where a product/performance would fall along the continuum of levels, start at the bottom (unacceptable) and top (mastery) levels and work your way “in”).
    5. Involve learners in development and effective use of the Rubric – How will you involve learners in the development of the assessment rubric? (Such engagement in the initial/on-going design helps to increase their awareness of expectations, what they are learning and their responsibility in the learning process).
    6. Pre-test and retest your rubric – How will you ensure that your rubric remains valid and reliable? (Plan to develop it over time, looking at each use with a new group of learners (or a colleague) as an opportunity to tweak and enhance it).

    For more details, information on types, a rubric to assess your rubric, and access to sample rubrics and scoring sheets, see:

    Adapted from Dr. Bonnie B. Mullinix, Sr. Consultant, Faculty and Educational DevelopmentTeaching, Learning and Technology Group Contributed by Tasha Souza.

    Tip References

    Rubrics, – background, types and uses, rubric for rubric, and sample rubrics and scoring sheets

    Flashlight 2.0 Matrix Survey, – survey and online rubric assessment tool

    Rubistar, – online rubrics generator/information

    Thinking Gear, – online rubrics generator/information