CSULA Department of English | Using Grading Rubrics

Beloved of accrediting bodies, rubrics (or scoring guides as they are sometimes called) are all the rage. For many instructors, however, rubrics simply sound like more work, one thing more to do on that endless to-do list. Rubrics do require some initial investment of time and thought, but in the long run a well-designed rubric can streamline the grading process by making clear to both the instructor and students what constitutes different levels of work. Rubrics can ensure consistency in grading practices and transparency in the grading process by serving as a shared understanding of both the requirements of a project and the expectations of the instructor.

What exactly is a rubric? Briefly, it is a set of scoring guidelines for evaluating student work. The rubric indicates both the criteria that will be used to judge the work and distinguishes between different levels of performance.



Focusing on Audience, Purpose and Genre

Balancing Low Stakes and High Stakes Assignments

Designing Effective Assignments

Responding to Student Writing

Dealing with Grammar

Emphasizing Style

Using Grading Rubrics

By identifying the criteria to be used to judge the work, a good rubric clearly identifies the instructor's expectations. And by distinguishing between different levels of performance a good rubric helps students determine how to meet those expectations. Also, because a rubric is shared with students early in the process, students become better judges of the quality of their own work and in peer review the work of others. The rubric also provides the instructor with language to give feedback on the quality of work.

Creating a Rubric

Examples of rubrics are easily found online. One key to a successful rubric, however, is that the rubric be specific to the assignment. Generalized rubrics for writing, for example, abound, such as the scoring guides we have developed for our two first-year writing courses. Click here to see our rubric for ENGL 101 and ENGL 102. For more specialized assignments, instructors will want to develop their own rubrics.

A good rubric takes time and revision to develop. Here is some basic advice for creating a rubric.

  1. Because the rubric will need to be refined over time, pick an assignment that will be used regularly in a course or regularly in a range of courses.
  2. Determine what criteria will be used to judge the work, then distinguish for each criterion what constitutes different levels of performance. This step is of course the hard part. Most rubrics are actually developed in this way:
    1. Start with examples of the strongest and weakest performances on an assignment.
    2. Identify the characteristics or traits shared by the strong performances and those shared by the weak performances. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a list of the criteria that will be used to judge the work.
    3. Define different levels of performance. Use the strong work to define the highest level of performance and the weak work to define the lowest level of performance; then extrapolate the middle levels. The goal here is to identify clearly what distinguishes the excellent work from the good work from the not-so good work.
  3. Use the rubric and revise and refine it. Sometimes the initial rubric doesn't contain all the criteria necessary. Other times it contains criteria that turns out to be unimportant. Often the discriminations the instructor has sought to make between different levels of quality prove difficult to see in practice.
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