Rubrics and Assessment

What is a Rubric?

Rubrics can be defined several ways depending on where they are utilized. For classroom grading purposes, rubrics can serve as a scoring tool that states the expectations of an assignment at distinct performance levels. In terms of assessment, rubrics serve as a quality indicator of student work with embedded knowledge, skills and abilities at different performance levels.  In assessment of student learning, rubrics serve as a framework for interpreting student performance in relation to program goal and/or student learning outcome (s). There are several types of rubrics including checklists, rating scales, holistic rubrics and descriptive or analytic rubrics.  Checklists as per the term basically is a list of defined items that faculty may look for either in terms of grading an assignment or assessing a knowledge or skill embedded within the assignment. Similarly, rating scales also consists of a list of items but with a scale to indicate the degree to which the items indicated in the list are present.    Holistic rubrics don’t specify a list but rather have degree of performance or quality levels with brief narrative descriptions on what each performance level must contain. In other words, holistic rubrics assign a single score to an assignment or student work in which the criteria for the assignment is viewed as a whole. Descriptive or analytic rubrics contain three components: a) a defined criteria, dimensions or components of an assignment, b) performance or quality level scale and c) a description box for each performance level and criteria. Analytic rubrics help identify strengths and weaknesses of students within the stated criteria/dimensions whereas holistic rubrics only show whether or not a student can perform at the stated levels.  The best rubrics for assessing student learning outcome are those that contain measurable criteria with descriptors that are well defined, objective and mutually-exclusive.

Note the following when developing rubrics for program assessment:

  • Remember, course grading rubric criteria differs from program assessment criteria. In a course grading rubric, title, summary, body, cover page can be some of the criteria whereas, for assessment, the criteria would focus on the program goal/student learning outcome, i.e. content purpose, content development and logic, etc. 
  • An assessment rubric can measure knowledge, skills, abilities across multiple assignments and sections if it links to program level goal and learning outcome. However, a grading rubric will not be able to do this since it would require the rubric to be changed per the specific course assignment and course grading criteria.
  • Assessment rubric must be aligned to program goal/student learning outcome (s) being assessed.
  • The description terminology for each analytic rubric should be  non-subjective and be based on objective terms to say what the student work at the “capstone” or “milestone”, level contains, see the rubric example below of from AAC&U.  
  • The performance or quality scale for assessment should be first determined to specify how many levels the scale would consist of, i.e. 1-3, 1-4 or 1-5.  Then, the scale or each level should be defined. Note, for assessment the scale should not be defined in terms of classroom or course grading such as good, poor, excellent, etc. rather in terms of performance assessment terms i.e. advanced, proficient, basic, beginning, or capstone, milestone, benchmark, etc. 

See an example of a Written Communication Value Rubric from Association of American Colleges &Universities (AAC&U)

Why use rubrics for program level assessment?

  • Expectations of student work are stated explicitly
  • Faculty awareness on how students’ progress through various performance levels
  • Shared expectations across program/department faculty
  • Helps identify areas of strengths and weakness


Banta, Trudy W., and Catherine A. Palomba. Assessment Essentials, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Curtis, Michelle. Grading vs. Assessment and How it Relates to Rubrics, Taskstream, TK20.

Driscoll, Amy, and Swarup Wood. Developing Outcomes-Based Assessment for Learner-Centered Education, Stylus Publishing, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Stevens, Dannelle D., and Antonia J. Levi. Introduction to Rubrics, Stylus Publishing, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Suskie, Linda. Assessing Student Learning, a common sense guide. © 2004 by Anker Publishing now part of Jossey-Bass.