What is a Rubric?

In a nutshell: We use a rubric to assess student work. A well-done rubric clarifies the expectations of an assignment and the way in which it will be graded. An example of this would be a scale identifying features of an assignment that will be graded and criteria at each level ranging from poor to excellent.

Why bother?

One study found that students who were not provided rubrics scored lower on an assignment than students who were given rubrics.3 Sharing rubrics with students allows them to better understand expectations of an assignment and to help assess their own work before turning it in for a final grade.

The how-to guide:

When creating a rubric, teachers write specific objectives that are met by the assignment for which the rubric is created. Then categories are created to reflect the objectives and the type of evaluation the teacher wants from the students.

For each category of evaluation (such as tone, spelling/punctuation, or use of vocabulary words), the teacher creates a scale to evaluate how well the student has met the goal of each category.2

With spelling or grammatical errors on a paper, for instance, between one and three errors might still meet expectations for the point value of that category, but a paper with more than three errors may result in some points being docked. Teachers label each part of the scale with the point value of incremental standards; with labels like poor, adequate, or excellent; or, with simply the labels of met or unmet standards.1

In order to create the most effective rubric, teachers must include detailed criteria about the expectations for each part of the assignment.

The University of Southern Maine has some great sample rubrics here.

History lesson:

While it is unclear when exactly the rubric that we think of today came into being, it likely started as a tool in diagnostics in medicine and psychology. A source as early as 1963 exhibited a rubric in use to diagnose cognitive dysfunction in children, but rubrics could have been used long before this.4 Before it became a form of educational assessment, the term rubric was used to describe headings of books, mainly within the Christian religion.5

The bottom line:

Rubrics help to create a dialogue between student and teacher about expectations for an assignment. They clarify questions about what type of work is acceptable and unacceptable.

Students are better informed about the amount of work they will need to do for an assignment and may do better knowing exactly what a teacher is looking for.

Rubrics can also help teachers make consistent grading decisions and help to effectively achieve class assignment objectives.



  1. Dawson, P. (2017). Assessment rubrics: Towards clearer and more replicable design, research and practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(3), 347-360. doi: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1111294
  2. Fink, L. (2013). Designing significant learning experiences I. Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses (pp. 100-102) Jossey-Bass.
  3. Howell, R. J. (2014). Grading rubrics: Hoopla or help? Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 51(4), 400-410. doi:10.1080/14703297.2013.785252
  4. Orpet, R. E., & Meyers, C. E. (1963). Factorially established rubrics of observations of test behavior. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 19(3), 292-294. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=15846969&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  5. Popham, W. J. 1997. What’s Wrong – and What’s Right – with Rubrics. Educational Leadership 55 (2): 72.

Want more info?

About the author:

Paige Stark

Paige Stark is a Master’s student in the sociology program at NDSU. She graduated from Concordia College with her Bachelor of Arts in sociology in 2018.

Stark has a variety of research interests including gender, income inequality, correctional rehabilitation, residential segregation, and almost any taboo subject.

Stark is originally from the Alexandria, MN area and enjoys reading and doing yoga in her free time.

KeywordsInstructional, K-12 Professional Development, What is?, OTL Blog   Doc ID130625
OwnerLinda C.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2023-08-25 11:53:56Updated2023-08-31 06:51:33
SitesIT Knowledge Base
Feedback  0   0