Karen Wootton, Director of Assessment
I hear teachers talk about rubrics with mixed tones. Some love them and swear by them, others just do not bother with them. Often the common ground is a lack of understanding about rubrics and how they can be used to further student learning.
For some teachers, rubrics are a means of communicating expectations. Teachers use rubrics to outline what would be a higher quality response, and this is a component of formative assessment. This gives students targets to aim for when completing a task. Other teachers use the rubric as criteria for grading, or summative assessment. These point-value rubrics, typically a 4-point or 6-point rubric, help teachers assign points based on how the response fits with the details of the rubric. Rubrics can be used for either purpose.
Suppose a teacher plans to use a 4-point rubric. Here is a typical descriptor for a score of three in a 4-point rubric: “Substantially accomplishes the purpose of the task. Student work shows essential grasp of the central mathematical idea(s). Recorded work in large part communicates correct thinking.” Usually, the score of a 3 is not much different from the score of a 4 in the description. But, for many teachers, entering a “3 out of 4” in the grade book, meaning the student earned a 75%, doesn’t seem to be in agreement with what a three stands for in a 4-point rubric. Doesn’t the description seem to fit a student who is doing better than “C” work? To help with this incongruity, in the assessment tab of the CPM teacher binder, CPM has suggestions for rubric grading, including percentages (2 as 70%, etc.) for translating a rubric score into a grade book percentage (eBook ? Assessment ? Grading and Scoring). For some teachers, this eases concerns of the rubric score being fair.
If you are considering using rubrics but have scoring concerns, you can still use rubrics by making some small changes and not translating to a percentage. One easy change is to switch from a 4-point rubric to simply assigning A, B, C, D, or F. Most students and parents know what those letters represent and can translate the letter into a level of competency Another alternative would be to switch to words. A 4-point word rubric might be Unacceptable, Marginal, Proficient, Distinguished. A more simple one: Developing, Competent, and Exemplary.
Rubrics can be used for many different assessment items. The research is clear though that for formative assessment (or Assessment for Learning) to be effective, you want to stay away from grades or percentages, and offer feedback. Feedback does not need to be long or detailed. In fact, you do not want to “tell” students how to do the problem in the feedback, but ask questions with your goal being to make the student think further about the problem. For example, you could write on a student’s paper “What prompted you to multiply by three? Where did you get 3 from the problem?” or “There was something we realized we needed to do when multiplying both sides of an inequality by a negative number. Do you remember? Why did we do this?” Even students who have solved a problem correctly should be offered the opportunity to think further and learn. Feedback for such a student could look like “This is very detailed and clear, but I am wondering if you could do the problem if the problem asked you to consider an octagon rather than a hexagon. What do you think?” In thinking through the problem and the mistakes the student has made, the student learns.
If you are using the rubric for a summative assessment, you might want to abandon that plan. For a summative assessment, do what most math teachers do: come up with an appropriate number of points for the problem to be worth, and then delineate how many points each “part” is worth. (e.g. “-2 for forgetting to flip an inequality…”) Most teachers are required to give summative assessments for the purpose of filling a grade book. Develop a system that works for you and is fair and appropriate for students.
One more thing to remember: you do not need to hide rubrics from your students. Share them and all your expectations for each task you give. Student learning will advance when you take this open approach to expectations and learning.