Rubrics – as a learning and assessment tool for project planning and evaluation

Rubrics offer a process for defining and describing the important components of work being assessed

A rubric is an easily applicable tool for supporting learning, assessment and evaluation and professional development. They offer a process for defining and describing the important components of complex tasks and behaviours. They can then help us assess these tasks (e.g. essays or projects) or behaviors (e.g. collaboration, team work), and make evaluative judgments about about the quality of performance and effectiveness. Rubrics are most commonly used in education, and increasingly they are being used to help develop instruction and evaluation/assessments in other sectors such as community development and natural resource management. The term ‘rubrics’ is used most commonly in education and evaluation circles – but the similar use of multiple scaled criteria in this way has long underpinned the monitoring and evaluation of complex environmental and physical systems.

A brief introduction to rubrics can be found in the recent LfS posting – Using rubrics to assess complex tasks and behaviors. The first set of links below provide recent examples and learnings from their emerging use in the evaluation and strategic planning sectors (in areas such as community development and natural resource management). The second set of links points to material recognising the long use of rubrics for simultaneously supporting learning, assessment and professional development in the education sector.

Emerging uses of rubrics in project planning, implementation and evaluation

The use of rubrics to improve risk communication and engagement between biosecurity agencies and their key partners and stakeholders. This 2018 open-access chapter by Will Allen and colleagues outlines an action research approach to the participatory development of rubrics as a design and assessment approach to improve surveillance systems in a biosecurity setting.  They show how rubrics can provide a way for reaching a shared understanding of what matters, and how to assess that in terms of what can be confidently regarded as good practice—and equally what can be agreed on as emerging practice.

Understanding the components of evaluative rubrics and how to combine them. In this 2018 e-book, Judy Oakden explores the different ways evaluative rubrics can be constructed from three basic components: key aspects of performance; levels of performance; and importance of each aspect of performance. She outlines some alternative ways she has combined the components in her own practice, and discusses the benefits and challenges of each approach.

Evaluative rubrics: a method for surfacing values and improving the credibility of evaluation. This practice-based 2013 paper by Julian King and colleagues unpacks the learnings of a group of evaluators who have used rubrics to help make judgments about performance, quality, and effectiveness. They have found that while evaluative rubrics look beguilingly simple they are hard to do well. However, when done well, the use of this tool can substantially increase the use and credibility of evaluation.

Evaluation rubrics: how to ensure transparent and clear assessment that respects diverse lines of evidence. This 2013 BetterEvaluation report by Judy Oakden provides a practical example of how rubrics can be used to ensure a transparent process for articulating the aspects of performance that are important. Rubrics also help evaluators to identify the data required to make judgements about the performance of the programme so that suitable data can be collected, and identify early any likely information gaps. When using rubrics, reporting can be succinct, but with sufficient detail that users of the evaluation consider the value judgements robust. This process results in evaluation that supports use by users of the evaluation

 Bridging disciplines, knowledge systems and cultures in pest management This 2013 paper by Will Allen, Shaun Ogilvie, Helen Blackie and colleagues describes how their research team with a range of disciplinary and stakeholder expertise was able to use rubrics in an action research based approach to critically reflect on their engagement practice and identify lessons around how to collaborate more effectively. They discuss the implications of these experiences for other researchers and managers seeking to improve engagement and collaboration in integrated science, management and policy initiatives.

Selected rubric presentations and briefs:   The rubric revolution. (Jane Davidson, Nan Wehipeihana, Kate McKegg 2011); Rubric methodology basics. (Jane Davidson 2013); Focusing the Evaluative Dance – The Value of Rubrics in Messy Non-Profit Evaluation Contexts. (Kate McKegg 2013);  What’s on the rubric horizon (Judy Oakden and Melissa Weenink 2015); Rubrics – an assessment tool for the urban biosecurity toolkit (Will Allen, Andrea Grant, Lynsey Earl 2017).

Rubrics: a history of use in the education sector

Rubrics: sharing the rules of the game. This useful 2016 paper by David Balch and Robert Blanck summarise the evolutionary uses of rubrics within the educational environment. They describe holistic, analytic (and developmental), and single-point rubrics. They provide a checklist for measuring the qualities of good rubric. They also review the incorporation over time of different goals, objectives and learning outcomes of rubrics in this setting.

What Are Rubrics and Why Are They Important? This 2013 chapter by Susan Brookhart describes the different types of rubrics – holistic, analytic, general, or task specific. Rubrics are defined in terms of their two main components: criteria and descriptions of levels of performance. The main point about criteria is that they should be about learning outcomes, not aspects of the task itself. The main point about descriptions of levels of performance is that they should be descriptions, not evaluative statements. The “evaluation” aspect of assessment is accomplished by matching student work with the description, not by making immediate judgments. And for a similar (but shorter) overview Jill Lane provides a quick summary of the different types of rubrics in this brief.

Teaching With Rubrics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This 2010 paper by Heidi Andrade gives a brief overview of the structure and purposes of rubrics; reviews the benefits of using rubrics as both teaching and grading tools; warns against approaches that limit the effectiveness of rubrics; and urges instructors to take simple steps toward ensuring the validity, reliability, and fairness of their rubrics. Tips for using rubrics with undergraduate and graduate students are also included.

A Method for Collaboratively Developing and Validating a Rubric. This 2009 paper by Sandra Allen and John Knight guides readers through a method for collaboratively developing and validating a rubric that integrates baseline data collected from academics and professionals. Steps in the process include formulating the rubric, collecting data, and sequentially analyzing the techniques used to validate the rubric and to insure precision in grading papers in multiple sections of a course.

Rubrics: Tools for making learning goals and evaluation criteria explicit for both teachers and learners. This 2006 paper by Deborah Allen and Kimberly Tanner highlights the benefit of rubrics as teaching and professional development tools. Used wisely, rubrics not only make the instructor’s standards and resulting grading explicit, but they can give students a clear sense of what the expectations are for a high level of performance on a given assignment, and how they can be met. This use of rubrics can be most important when those undertaking the activity to be assessed are novices with respect to a particular task or type of expression. Finally, they remind us that by their very nature, rubrics encourage reflective practice on the part of both students and teachers.

Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning.  This 2000 paper by Heidi Andrade highlights that instructional rubrics help teachers teach as well as evaluate student work. She reminds us that  creating rubrics with your students can be powerfully instructive. Rubrics make assessing student work quick and efficient, and they help teachers justify to parents and others the grades that they assign to students. At their very best, rubrics are also teaching tools that support student learning and the development of sophisticated thinking skills. When used correctly, they serve the purposes of learning as well as of evaluation and accountability. Like portfolios, exhibitions, and other authentic approaches to assessment, rubrics blur the distinction between instruction and assessment.

What’s wrong – and what’s right – with rubrics. In this 1997 paper James Popham emphasises that rubrics have the potential to make enormous contributions to instruction quality – but first we have to correct the flaws that make many rubrics almost worthless. He notes that we have to abandon both overly task-specific and excessively general rubrics, and strive to end up with rubrics that actually and practically help instruction.