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The one about Rubrics

Alas, as I wrote in my last post, as with other good ideas, there has been some stupidification of this tool.

Grant Wiggins


I’ve spent most of my academic career thinking that rubrics are a good thing, as they provide a standardised and structured approach to grading, they can help students understand what is expected of them, and provide opportunities for feedback of varying sorts.

However, I recently came across two posts (Kohn, 2006Hurley, 2020) that gave me pause with respect to rubrics, and I wanted to dig a little deeper to figure out if I’m still on board with them or whether I should reconsider using them in my own practice.

After preparing this newsletter, I’m still comfortable with rubrics, although I acknowledge that there may be some concerns. But the concerns seem, in almost every case, to stem from issues around grading and not rubrics. And since grading can be separated from rubrics, it can’t be the rubric that’s the issue. Yes, rubrics can encourage a uniformity of writing style. And yes, they can close down options for students and lecturers. But the same is true of any assessment tool.

I don’t think that rubrics are so much the problem, as is their poor and indifferent implementation.


Stachowiak, B. (n.d.). Still not sold on rubrics? (No. 2). Teaching in Higher Ed podcast

My first introduction to rubrics were ones that were done really well and I spent a lot of time doing them and really thinking about them. But what I’m seeing now, unfortunately, is the landscape has changed to where so many institutions…are using rubrics a lot but a lot of really bad rubrics and a lot of rubrics that are not thought out well. And so our students are getting accustomed to the fact that we’re not going to give them a good idea of what the expectations are and that we’re not going to give them feedback. And then a lot of times our faculty aren’t really taking them very seriously either. I have this debate on somewhat of a regular basis with the colleagues that I work with regularly, and some of them really have a lot of resistance to [rubrics]. – Bonni Stachowiak

This isn’t my favourite episode from the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast (although, in fairness, it’s only the second one that Bonni did in the series). But that’s because they go off-topic a few times and in almost 30 minutes don’t spend very much time talking about rubrics at all. Bonni does mention Grant Wiggins who I link to in the last section of the newsletter, and I agree with her take on his work, in that it’s insightful, thoughtful, and helpful.

Having said that, this was literally the only episode I could find on rubrics at all. I’m not just talking about podcasts in my collection…I couldn’t find anything else on the internet. Granted, that’s not to say they don’t exist (absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, after all), so if you know of any podcasts where the hosts discuss rubrics, please pass it on to me.


Dawson, P. (2017). Assessment rubrics: Towards clearer and more replicable design, research and practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(3), 347–360

‘Rubric’ is a term with a variety of meanings. As the use of rubrics has increased both in research and practice, the term has come to represent divergent practices. These range from secret scoring sheets held by teachers to holistic student-developed articulations of quality. Rubrics are evaluated, mandated, embraced and resisted based on often imprecise and inconsistent understandings of the term. This paper provides a synthesis of the diversity of rubrics, and a framework for researchers and practitioners to be clearer about what they mean when they say ‘rubric’. Fourteen design elements or decision points are identified that make one rubric different from another. This framework subsumes previous attempts to categorise rubrics, and should provide more precision to rubric discussions and debate, as well as supporting more replicable research and practice.

This paper was useful to help me get a better understanding of rubrics and the wide variety of contextual elements involved. The author describes 14 design elements informing the choices you need to make when developing a rubric, as well as providing a sample demonstrating how these elements are presented:

  1. Specificity: the particular object of assessment
  2. Secrecy: who the rubric is shared with, and when it is shared
  3. Exemplars: work samples provided to illustrate quality
  4. Scoring strategy: procedures used to arrive at marks and grades
  5. Evaluative criteria: overall attributes required of the student
  6. Quality levels: the number and type of levels of quality
  7. Quality definitions: explanations of attributes of different levels of quality
  8. Judgement complexity: the evaluative expertise required of users of the rubric
  9. Users and uses: who makes use of the rubric, and to what end
  10. Creators: the designers of the rubric
  11. Quality processes: approaches to ensure the reliability and validity of the rubric
  12. Accompanying feedback information: comments, annotation or other notes on student performance
  13. Presentation: how the information in the rubric is displayed
  14. Explanation: instructions or other additional information provided to users


Weinberg, J. (2017, May 24). An Impressively Detailed Philosophy Paper Grading Rubric. Daily Nous. Retrieved 25 April 2022

I came across this comprehensive philosophy essay grading rubric which, with a few minor changes, could be used for any essay. Something like this is in stark contrast with the majority of grading rubrics I’ve come across, which seem quite superficial in comparison. I’ve found that putting the time into designing a detailed rubric is well worth it, as it’s something that you can keep coming back to every year, and this example is a good one.

Here’s a link to the full PDF.

In addition, I also thought that these two blog posts by Grant Wiggins were great to help me get my head around rubrics in more general terms.

  1. Wiggins, G. (2013, January 17). Intelligent vs. Thoughtless use of rubrics and models (Part 1). Granted, And…
  2. Wiggins, G. (2013, February 5). On Rubrics and Models: A dialogue (Part 2) Granted, And…

The first post presents an argument in response to some of the objections raised around rubrics, and the second offers an approach to the development of rubrics that are informed by models of desired behaviour, as well as examples of rubric elements that facilitate creative and high-level student performance.

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