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What deserves a rubric?


A good starting point when thinking about what tasks deserves a quality rubric, is to reflect on the nature of the task. What are your goals for you and your students? 


If your goal is to provide answers to the following questions, a checklist is likely a better tool:

  • What do I need to do to pass?
  • What do I need to do to get an A?
  • What do I need to do to make you happy?
  • What will you be counting as you read my work? 
  • What are the minimum components I need to make sure I have?
  • Are you looking for a particular response as my assessor? One approach? One right answer? 


If your goal is to provide answers to the following questions, a rubric is probably the best fit:

  • What does quality look like for this task or process?
  • What does "better" look like so I can I revise my work without waiting for your feedback?
  • What does it look like when a beginner does this type of project or task? A master?
  • What does it look like to break the rules or be creative for this type of work? How will I know if I'm "breaking the rules" or doing it wrong? 


You may find these questions helpful if you've already created a document and are wondering if it "counts" as a rubric or it can better be classified a scoring chart.  Scoring charts are not useless or bad tools. Nor are checklists. All three provide meaningful support to a quality assessment system and can help facilitate communication around criteria between assessors and assessees. 


Designed with the goal of communicating expectations, Quality Rubrics take time to write, requiring student input, the use of anchors and exemplars, and most likely, multiple drafts. Tasks that deserve a Quality Rubric are typically complete processes, performances and products that are common outside of school.  These include debates, oral presentations, posters, book reviews or critiques, or authentic tasks like planting a garden, making a movie, or solving a problem. Examples of rubrics


Meanwhile, checklists are perfectly useful and reasonable tools for scoring and communicating our expectations for partial products, skills, and knowledge tasks that are used primarily in classrooms. These include sentences, answers to short essay questions, or solving a math problem in a particular way. You can also use them to support rubrics by helping students “check” the different rubric requirements as they complete them. Examples of checklists


Finally, use point systems for items that can only be right or wrong, such as computation problems or spelling words.  Examples of a point system


Checklist versus Rubric versus Point System

Deciding when to use a checklist versus when to use a rubric depends on your purpose and learning goals for your students. In general, checklists are helpful when you are looking for something specific. If you want them to use 3 vocabulary words, then create a checklist that lays out that expectation. Want them to use 3-5 sources when researching? Then put that on your checklist. A rubric is best when:

  • students will have opportunity to revise and get feedback,
  • the task is meaningful enough to warrant the time it takes,
  • most importantly, when you are more interested in quality than you are in quantity.


If it looks like a duck….

Understanding the attributes of a quality rubrics and when to use them make it easier to recognize that just because something is labeled as a rubric, doesn’t mean it is a quality rubric. Like many things in education, definitions of a term may vary depending on our own experiences or which experts or professionals we trust or consult. Many examples available from the internet label documents as rubrics seemingly because they are set up with rows and columns.








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