Step 4: Develop Assessment Criteria and Rubrics

Just as we align assessments with the course learning objectives, we also align the grading criteria for each assessment with the goals of that unit of content or practice, especially for assignments than cannot be graded through automation the way that multiple-choice tests can. Grading criteria articulate what is important in each assessment, what knowledge or skills students should be able to demonstrate, and how they can best communicate that to you. When you share grading criteria with students, you help them understand what to focus on and how to demonstrate their learning successfully. From good assessment criteria, you can develop a grading rubric.

Develop Your Assessment Criteria | Decide on a Rating Scale | Create the Rubric


Developing Your Assessment Criteria

Good assessment criteria are

  • Clear and easy to understand as a guide for students
  • Attainable rather than beyond students’ grasp in the current place in the course
  • Significant in terms of the learning students should demonstrate
  • Relevant in that they assess student learning toward course objectives related to that one assessment.

To create your grading criteria, consider the following questions:

  • What is the most significant content or knowledge students should be able to demonstrate understanding of at this point in the course?
  • What specific skills, techniques, or applications should students be able to use to demonstrate using at this point in the course?
  • What secondary skills or practices are important for students to demonstrate in this assessment? (for example, critical thinking, public speaking skills, or writing as well as more abstract concepts such as completeness, creativity, precision, or problem-solving abilities)
  • Do the criteria align with the objectives for both the assessment and the course?

Once you have developed some ideas about the assessment’s grading criteria, double-check to make sure the criteria are observable, measurable, significant, and distinct from each other.

Assessment Criteria Example
Using the questions above, the performance criteria in the example below were designed for an assignment in which students had to create an explainer video about a scientific concept for a specified audience. Each elements can be observed and measured based on both expert instructor and peer feedback, and each is significant because it relates to the course and assignment learning goals.

Additional Assessment Criteria Resources
Developing Grading Criteria (Vanderbilt University)

Creating Grading Criteria (Brown University)
Sample Criteria (Brown University)

Developing Grading Criteria (Temple University)


Decide on a Rating Scale

Deciding what scale you will use for an assessment depends on the type of learning you want students to demonstrate and the type of feedback you want to give students on this particular assignment or test. For example, for an introductory lab report early in the semester, you might not be as concerned with advanced levels of precision as much as correct displays of data and the tone of the report; therefore, grading heavily on copy editing or advanced analysis would not be appropriate. The criteria would likely more rigorous by the end of the semester, as you build up to the advanced level you want students to reach in the course.

Rating scales turn the grading criteria you have defined into levels of performance expectations for the students that can then be interpreted as a letter, number, or level. Common rating scales include

  • A, B, C, etc. (without or without + and -)
  • 100 point scale with defined cut-off for a letter grade if desired (ex. a B = 89-80; or a B+ = 89-87, B = 86-83, B- = 82-80)
  • Yes or no, present or not present (if the rubric is a checklist of items students must show)
  • A three or five category holistic scale, such as
    • below expectations, meets expectations, exceeds expectations
    • not demonstrated, poor, average, good, excellent

Once you have decided on a scale for the type of assignment and the learning you want students to demonstrate, you can use the scale to clearly articulate what each level of performance looks like, such as defining what A, B, C, etc. level work would look like for each grading criteria. What would distinguish a student who earns a B from one who earns a C? What would distinguish a student who excelled in demonstrating use of a tool from a student who clearly was not familiar with it? Write these distinctions out in descriptive notes or brief paragraphs.

Ethical Implications of Rating Scales
There are ethical implications in each of these types of rating skills. On a project worth 100 points, what is the objective difference between earning an 85 or and 87? On an exceeds/meets/does not meet scale, how can those levels be objectively applied? Different understandings of "fairness" can lead to several ways of grading that might disadvantage some students. Learn more about equitable grading practices here.


Create the Rubric

Rubrics Can Make Grading More Effective

  • Provide students with more complete and targeted feedback
  • Make grading more timely by enabling the provision of feedback soon after assignment is submitted/presented.
  • Standardize assessment criteria among those assigning/assessing the same assignment.
  • Facilitate peer evaluation of early drafts of assignment.

Rubrics Can Help Student Learning

  • Convey your expectations about the assignment through a classroom discussion of the rubric prior to the beginning of the assignment
  • Level the playing field by clarifying academic expectations and assignments so that all students understand regardless of their educational backgrounds.(e.g. define what we expect analysis, critical thinking, or even introductions/conclusions should include)
  • Promote student independence and motivation by enabling self-assessment
  • Prepare students to use detailed feedback.

Rubrics Have Other Uses:

  • Track development of student skills over several assignments
  • Facilitate communication with others (e.g. TAs, communication center, tutors, other faculty, etc)
  • Refine own teaching skills (e.g. by responding to common areas of weaknesses, feedback on how well teaching strategies are working in preparing students for their assignments).

In this video, CTL's Dr. Carol Subino Sullivan discusses the value of the different types of rubrics.

Many non-test-based assessments might seem daunting to grade, but a well-designed rubric can alleviate some of that work. A rubric is a table that usually has these parts:  

  1. a clear description of the learning activity being assessed
  2. criteria by which the activity will be evaluated
  3. a rating scale identifying different levels of performance
  4. descriptions of the level of performance a student must reach to earn that level. 

When you define the criteria and pre-define what acceptable performance for each of those criteria looks like ahead of time, you can use the rubric to compare with student work and assign grades or points for each criteria accordingly. Rubrics work very well for projects, papers/reports, and presentations, as well as in peer review, and good rubrics can save instructors and TAs time when grading. 

Sample Rubrics
This final rubric for the scientific concept explainer video combines the assessment criteria and the holistic rating scale:

When using this rubric, which can be easily adapted to use a present/not present rating scale or a letter grade scale, you can use a combination of checking items off and adding written (or audio/video) comments in the different boxes to provide the student more detailed feedback. 

As a second example, this descriptive rubric was used to ask students to peer assess and self-assess their contributions to a collaborative project. The rating scale is 1 through 4, and each description of performance builds on the previous. (See the full rubric with scales for both product and process here. This rubric was designed for students working in teams to assess their own contributions to the project as well as their peers.)

Building a Rubric in Canvas Assignments
You can create rubrics for assignments and discussions boards in Canvas. Review these Canvas guides for tips and tricks.
Rubrics Overview for Instructors
What are rubrics? 
How do I align a rubric with a learning outcome?
How do I add a rubric to an assignment?
How do I add a rubric to a quiz?
How do I add a rubric to a graded discussion?
How do I use a rubric to grade submissions in SpeedGrader?
How do I manage rubrics in a course?

Additional Resources for Developing Rubrics
Designing Grading Rubrics (Brown University)
Step-by-step process for creating an effective, fair, and efficient grading rubric. 

Creating and Using Rubrics (Carnegie Mellon University)
Explores the basics of rubric design along with multiple examples for grading different types of assignments.

Using Rubrics (Cornell University)
Argument for the value of rubrics to support student learning.

Rubrics (University of California Berkeley)
Shares "fun facts" about rubrics, and links the rubric guidelines from many higher ed organizations such as the AAC&U.

Creating and Using Rubrics (Yale University)
Introduces different styles of rubrics and ways to decide what style to use given your course's learning goals.

Best Practices for Designing Effective Resources(Arizona State University)
Comprehensive overview of rubric design principles.

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