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Low to High versus High to Low

Page history last edited by LCI, Ltd. 8 years, 3 months ago

I will always advocate for rubrics to read from low to high. Here's why: 


Once the conversation about rubrics have moved past to determining their worth and establishing what a quality rubric really is, the next topic is usually the presentation of the rubric. Generally speaking, I advocate for going with presentation that makes sense to both teacher and learner (regardless of age), using language that is comfortable for all. So if a rubric was designed to help teachers assess their own performance, it should make sense to them, just as much as a rubric designed with sixth graders should make sense to them. There are some quality student rubrics that have two versions: one for the adults that uses 100 words and one for the student that uses 10 words. What matters isn't so much how the rubric looks, rather how well the learner can use it to assess his or her own quality. Plus, it should be mentioned that behind a quality rubric are anchors and exmplars, providing examples of quality at each level.


So then the conversation becomes about the physical appearance or the physical layout of the page. I prefer to read left to right in a typical table format, but that's personal choice. Some rubrics use a different layout and still communicate expectations clearly. 


Going from high to low:

(Best Work Rubric from OHASSTA.org)


Or low to high:

(Curiosity and Wonder Rubric)


As it is with many things, the question goes back to our purpose in communicating expectations to students. I advocate going from low to high for the following reasons:

  • it communicates to students that quality and growth are process
  • it supports thinking about the lower levels as what beginners do, rather than what they don't do - quality rubrics focus less on ranking and grading, more on improving quality of work or process skills
  • having the highest level be at the right end of the page, to me, sends the nonverbal message that the levels could keep going - we just ran out of paper. It can let students know that the rubric isn't the end all, be all. There's a whole world of quality off the page, we're just capturing a segment of it to give them a framework for self-reflection.


I advocate against going from high to low for the following reasons:

  • in a quality rubric, the highest level (typically 4) is above our expectations. It gives students a frame of reference for what's beyond what is expected - so students already have to read in one level to find the expected criteria. Having what's beyond expectations as the first criteria students see may communicate the wrong message
  •  quality rubrics are a tool to support self-reflection. As we can't stand behind every student while they work, and they shouldn't have to wait for our feedback to think about revision, a high to low rubric interferes with the idea that quality is a process and grows through reflection.


A caveat: Many, many, many, many documents referred to as "rubrics" are rubrics in the very beginning stages that are more like scoring guides or charts. Wondering what makes a rubric a quality rubric? Feel free to explore the wiki and contact me if you have any questions.

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