Rubrics for Written Assignments

Introduction

Most graduate courses require students to produce written work although these products differ in purpose and required parameters (e.g., format, length, or tone). Thus, a faculty member might be called on to evaluate short reflection papers, longer lab reports, or longer still term papers. In evaluating a written product, it is important to choose or develop a rubric in order to bring consistency, fairness, and clarity to the task.
Creating Rubrics

An analytic rubric is a scoring guide used to evaluate performance, a product, or a project. It has three parts: 1) performance criteria; 2) rating scale; and 3) indicators.
How to Develop a Rubric

Using a rubric to evaluate student written work is helpful for both faculty and students. For faculty, rubrics

  • Reduce the time spent grading by allowing instructors to refer to a substantive description without writing long comments
  • Help to identify strengths and weaknesses across an entire class and adjust instruction appropriately
  • Help to ensure consistency across time and across graders
  • Reduce the uncertainty that can accompany grading
  • Discourage complaints about grades

Rubrics help students to

  • Understand instructors’ expectations and standards
  • Use instructor feedback to improve their performance
  • Monitor and assess their own progress
  • Recognize their strengths and weaknesses and direct their efforts accordingly

Benefitting from Rubrics

Developing a Rubric

Developing a rubric entails the following steps:

  1. Determine the criteria to assess student work, which entails deciding what areas matter  most to the quality of the work that’s being produced. Rubrics enumerate expectations of student performance related to the material being taught.
    1. ​​​​​​​List all the possible criteria students should demonstrate in the assignment.
    2. Decide which of those criteria are crucial. Ideally, the rubric will have three to five performance criteria.
    3. Criteria should be: unambiguous, clearly stated, measurable, precise, and distinct.
    4. Prioritize the criteria by relating them to the learning objectives for the unit and determining which skills are essential at competent or proficiency levels for the assignment.
  2. Develop a rating scale. Rating scales can include either numerical or descriptive labels. Usually, a rating scale consists of an even number of performance levels. If an odd number is used, the middle level tends to become a catch-all category.Examples of rating scales include:
    1. Basic, Developing, Accomplished, Exemplary
    2. Poor, Below Average, Average, Above Average, Excellent
    3. Below Expectations, Basic, Proficient, Outstanding
    4. Unsatisfactory, Basic, Competent, Distinguished
    5. Developing, Acceptable, Target
    6. Does Not Meet Expectations, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations
    7. F, C, B, A
    8. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
    9. Low Mastery, Average Mastery, High Mastery
    10. Missing, unclear, clear, thorough
    11. Below expectations, basic, proficient, outstanding
    12. Never, rarely, sometimes, often, always
    13. Novice, apprentice, proficient, master
      ​​​​​​​
  3. Develop indicators of quality. Define the performance expected of the ideal assessment for each criterion. Begin with the highest level of the scale to define top quality performance and create indicators for all performance levels.
  4. Discuss the rubric with students so that they are clear on the expectations. Students can even help create the rubric.
  5. Re-examine the rubric. Questions to ask when reviewing a rubric include
    1. Does the rubric relate to the outcome(s) being measured?
    2. Does it cover important criteria for student performance?
    3. Does the top end of the rubric reflect excellence?
    4. Are the criteria and scales well-defined?
  6. Pilot and evaluate the rubric to ensure it is valid, reliable, and useful
    1. Share the rubric with colleagues, students, and experts
    2. Test the rubric on samples of student work
    3. If multiple raters are being used, discuss common definitions, standards, and expectations for quality and practice using the rubric and comparing ratings to determine consistency in judgments across raters.

Rubrics for Written Work

There are, of course, many types of student papers, which differ in the learning outcomes they represent and the skills they are meant to develop. Ideally, an instructor will develop a unique rubric for each assignment, based on the intent of the assignment and the relevant learning objectives as well as the overall learning objectives for the course. When creating a rubric to evaluate a written assignment, an instructor should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What will distinguish the best papers from the least effective?
  • What skills is this task meant to teach that should be evaluated with the rubric?
  • What is the paper supposed to accomplish, and what is the process that the writer should go through to accomplish those goals?
  • How will I know if they have learned what the task calls for them to learn?

Designing and Using Rubrics

A review of a sample of rubrics for evaluating papers indicates that they vary in both the number of dimensions and the content of the dimensions included used; however, it is possible to extract several common dimensions for evaluation. These may include the following:

Content included

  • ​​​​​​​Thoroughness/completeness
  • Currency/recency
  • Relevance

Organization/structure

  • Thesis statement/argument
  • Supporting evidence
  •  Logic/coherence
  • Cohesiveness

Presentation of ideas

  • Integration/synthesis
  •  Analysis
  •  Evaluation
  •  Creativity/originality

Writing style

  • Tone
  • Conciseness
  • Clarity

Mechanics

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Word choice
  • Sentence structure

Format

  • Use of APA style in text
  • Use of APA style in references

An instructor creating a rubric should consider these dimensions and determine which ones are pertinent to the purpose of the assignment being evaluated. It is also possible to adopt or adapt existing rubrics. One common source is the Association of American Colleges and Universities Value Rubrics: Written Communication.

AACU Value Rubrics: Written Communication

Other examples of specific rubrics include the following:

Examples of Rubrics for Research Papers

Research Paper Rubric
Cornell College Cole Library

Rubric for Research Paper
Kansas State Assessment Toolkit

Rubric for Research Paper
University of Florida Center for Teaching Excellence

Writing Rubric for Psychology
Middlebury College Academics

Rubrics for Essays

Grading Rubrics: Essays
Brandeis University Writing Program

Analytic and Critical Thinking
​​​​​​​Mount Holyoke College Teaching & Learning Initiative

Argument Essay Grading Rubric
Saint Paul College Academic Effectiveness and Innovation

Rubrics for Class Papers

College Level Writing Rubric
Virginia Union University

Grading Rubric for Papers
St. John’s University

Grading Rubric for Writing Assignment
The American University of Rome

Rubrics for Reflection Papers

Reflection Writing Rubric
Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence

Reflective Essay
University of Florida Center for Teaching Excellence

Grading Rubric for Reflective Essay
Mount Holyoke College Teaching & Learning Initiative

Sources

Creating Rubrics
University of Texas/Austin Faculty Innovation Center

Evaluating Rubrics
DePaul University Teaching Commons

Using Rubrics
University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Building A Rubric
Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning

Designing & Using Rubrics
University of Michigan Sweetland Center for Writing

Grading with Rubrics
Western University Center for Teaching and Learning

Grading Rubrics
Berkeley Graduate Division Graduate Student Instructor Teaching & Resource Center