Designing Rubrics for Student Assessment
An Adaptable Five-Category Rubric and Conversion Scale

Using rubrics to assess student performance has completely changed my method of grading, from the old way of just assigning total points to tasks to a new descriptive and holistic approach.  I have been using rubrics to grade all aspects of student performance in my mathematics classes for four years now, and I would like to share how I create them as well as some of the advantages and drawbacks that I've encountered during this time.

First of all, it is important to understand that rubrics provide descriptive levels of student performance, and the following are the descriptors that I prefer:

Exemplary (4.0 = A), 
Accomplished (3.0 = B), 
Developing (2.0 = C), 
Beginning (1.0 = D), ConvScale.jpg (172226 bytes)
Unacceptable (0 = F)

I then developed a 20-point rubric score (based on the 4.0-grading system, although I skewed the low end of it for a slightly higher performance to earn a passing mark) which can be converted to any number of total points the teacher wants to give the assignment. 

The 20-point rubric score is subcategorized by five areas in which students are rated by the descriptors above.  These categories can be curriculum performance standards, steps in a process, or anything related to the quality of the work being assessed. If there aren't five specific categories to be assessed, I will include overall accuracy and/or communication of ideas, or sometimes I will weight a particular category double if it's really important or heavily stressed in that unit of study. 

The quality of work expected at each level of achievement then needs to be described, and the exemplary category is always the most detailed, so I start there.  I try to use student-friendly interpretations of the standards and expectations, and I also try to describe the types of mistakes that might occur in subsequent levels of achievement. 

I have found this method to be highly flexible in adapting from unit to unit and have been using it for the past three years without needing to make any changes in the process.  I use a Microsoft Word rubric template to create my rubrics for each unit we study.  It took me into my third year of using rubrics to become really efficient at writing them, and I thought I had them mastered last year.  However, this year I am continuing to refine the process and am surprised at just how natural it has become.

At first, before I had any experience with rubrics, I had to create them after the students took a test.  I would go through the tests and mark them for accuracy and comment on the students' work at that time.  Then I would order the papers from best to worst accuracy,  group them into similar categories, and describe their characteristics in the rubric.  

To test the usefulness of its design, I have students fill in a rubric assessing their own work.  This forces the students to examine their performance critically and read my personal feedback.  I then walk around and compare my ratings with each student, and we have the opportunity to discuss any discrepancies between us.  This allows me to explain precisely why I rated them in the manner I did, as well as convey to them precisely what they need to do to improve their performance.  Also, an added bonus to this type of descriptive grading is that it completely eliminates complaints over unearned points.   Because the problems no longer have individual point values and performance is evaluated as a whole, there is hardly ever any argument over a few nit-picky points. 

To see an example from the Algebra 2 unit on factoring polynomials (in conjunction with using the flowchart to learn the factoring process) click on the links below.  Both are Word documents, with the first one being the factoring test of 20 problems to complete and the second one being the rubric I created to assess performance.

Sample Factoring Test

Sample Factoring Rubric


Below are links to a my conversion guide and Word template that I've created along with some other useful websites to help you get started making  your own rubrics.

Rubric Template for Microsoft Word (DOC version)

Conversion Scale (PDF version)

The Staff Room

Ohio Literacy Resouce Center

Kathy Schrock's Educator Guide

NC Schools Resources

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