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Building Better Rubrics

Does the prospect of building an assessment rubric make you want to run for the hills? Before you throw in the towel, consider the advantages of utilizing rubrics as an assessment tool–both for you as the instructor, and also for your students!  Here at CTL, we hear a lot of concerns from faculty about why they may be avoiding rubrics, including:

  1. Some feel that the process of drafting rubrics is time-consuming and tedious
  2. Other think that rubrics can only measure hard skills, but not student growth over time
  3. Some are concerned that rubrics drive students to perform to rubric standards (and not their potential)

It is true, that on the pre-work and design side, rubrics DO take a bit of extra time to develop–but there is the payoff of the ability to quickly and easily assess student work, in a way that really focuses on what the explicit expectations of the assignment really are.  As far as measuring student growth of skill over time, our guidance on Developmental Rubrics may be just what you are looking for. Rubrics remain the most accessible way to fine-tune our teach focus and communicate transparently with students what, precisely we expect of them, a key component in UMPI’s Academic Commitments

Anchor rubric criteria in your outcomes and objectives

Before even sitting down in front of your carefully formatted table, you need to determine what (precisely) you are assessing.  It is helpful to start at the outcome level–what are the essential skills and/or elements that you need to see in the project?  What were the teaching objectives or goals that you need to assess students understanding of? Keep these objectives specific and clear in your mind–better yet, write them down. 

You may also have some basic requirements for the assignment (presentation, correctness, organization, vocabulary, etc.), so make sure you are using criteria that relate to the assignment. What are you trying to assess with THIS assignment? You may want students’ work to be neat, or follow a certain format, but do they need to be graded on it? (Sometimes: yes!)

Criteria vary greatly, depending on the subject matter and scope of the assignment, but here is a shortlist of ideas to help.

Written Assignments Performance Assignments Behavior
  • Thesis statement clarity
  • Organization
  • Relevancy to prompt
  • Voice
  • Citations
  • Use of Figurative Language
  • Formatting
  • Integration/use of sources
  • Speak clearly / loudly / slowly
  • Use of visuals / media
  • Audience engagement techniques
  • Utilize a studio technique
  • Accuracy of factual information
  • Engage in a meaningful way with peers
  • Recite text
  • Follow steps in experiment
  • Follow a detailed process
  • Professional behavior & demeanor
  • Interpersonal skills and functional group work
  • Arrive on time/attendance
  • Actively listens
  • Submits work in a timely manner
  • Are receptive & responsive to feedback


Analytical Rubric

An analytical rubric is utilized to assess the student’s level of mastery of different skills.  They are normally structured in a grid, with criteria along the left side, and the different levels of achievement (ie: developing, proficient, exceeds, etc.) along the top.  Analytic rubrics are really good for determining where your students are, on the developmental spectrum of learning your skillsets.


  • They can provide very clear and logical feedback on the student’s strengths and challenge areas
  • The criteria can be weighted to allow for essential skills and elements to be worth more than others (depending on the objective of the assessment)


  • It is time-consuming to create each rubric, and grading can be more time-consuming than utilizing a holistic rubric
  • The grader’s interpretation of the criteria may be subjective (creating a challenge for consistent grading if utilizing across courses/sections)

Developmental rubric

Developmental rubrics are similar to analytical rubrics, but with a slightly different focus.  Like analytic rubrics, developmental rubrics measure criteria, along with several levels of achievement–but where analytical rubrics to measure products, developmental rubrics are usually used to measure the ‘soft-skills’, behaviors and dispositions.  Developmental rubrics measure observable behaviors– Interpersonal Skills, Introspection, and Personal Responsibility are some examples of the criteria that a developmental rubric may address.


  • They are not generally used for grading, so it takes the pressure off of developmental skill, while still communicating the goal expectations
  • It is based on developmental theory


  • If utilizing within an analytical rubric, the relevance can be lost, if there is not a clearly explained tie between the graded assessment criteria and the developmental criteria
  • This type of rubric is hard to design if you do not have a strong background in developmental theory

(Note: the video below is a talk-through of developmental rubric creation at the elementary level–there is value in the process, though we will have to create our measurement for a collegiate level)

Holistic rubric

Holistic rubrics create a narrative of expectations across criterion (as opposed to a checklist of individual criteria requirements)–and assign a single score (for example 1-4 or ‘Needs improvement’-‘Exceeds requirements’).  The instructor will match the student work or performance to a single descriptor on the scale.


  • The emphasis is on what the student has demonstrated (rather than being defined by what is not present)
  • It can save time and streamline the grading process


  • It does not provide specific feedback for student improvement
  • When student skills are varying across criteria, it can make it more difficult to select a single best-fit description

Adding Grading Rubrics to Assignments in Brightspace

Did you know that you can create gradable rubrics from within the LMS?

With Brightspace, you can create analytical or holistic rubrics, that you can grade in, to supplement and support for feedback to students.  Let’s look at a quick demo of a creating these rubrics:



Don’t know where to begin?

If you have some experience or background in wrtting rubrics already, you can jump right into the 3 major types of rubrics that we are going to explore, including Analytical, Developmental and Holistic (as well as some helpful rubric alternatives and additions).  If you are brand new to rubric crafting, let’s take a look at some rubric basics from CCAC:

5 Steps to writing your rubric

  1. Choose a rubric type to meet your needs would a weighted analytical rubric allow you to more accurately assess student work, or would the project do better with a holistic score?
  2. Determine your criteria based on your clear assessment goals–what, exactly, are you assessing?
  3. Determine your performance levels what elements, skills and/or evidence are necessary for different levels of work?
  4. Write your descriptors It may be easier to start with the descriptors for your”Meets” or “Proficient” level first, then determine what would be indicators of sophistication beyond the assignment parameters, and then specific language in the ’emerging’ categories.
  5. Review, use and revise when your rubric is done, review it for clarity.  How easy will it be to grade with?  After using it, is there anything you would change?

Tools and strategies we love to use online

If you would like to brainstorm about how to utilize any of these tools and/or strategies, please reach out to schedule an appointment!

Rubric Codes?

The Cult of Pedagogy has a unique system for coding her rubrics, to quickly and efficiently streamline her grading system, check it out:


University of Delaware’s Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning has a great Rubrics page to explore, including examples of great developmental rubrics, to explore and inspire!

Getting explicit with your rubric language

Getting specific and detailed with what your expectations are is key to a clear, concise rubric–let’s look at some word-crafting tips:



iRubric by iCampus, is a free rubric generator, allowing you to create, print and share rubrics quickly and easily–and really, their back of example developmental, analytical and holistic rubrics is amazing!  If you are stuck, definitely start here!