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Assessing Student Work with Rubrics

posted: 11.15.13 by Traci Gardner

Tonight, I need to finish work on rubrics for the two different courses I am teaching. I like the idea of using rubrics as part of my response to student work because they can help delineate the nuances between one letter grade and another.

The challenge tonight, however, is how to recover from the flawed rubrics I created for the earlier assignments in these courses. I was a last-minute hire, so I had little time to prep for the first day of class. With just over two weeks to get ready (and a goodly sum of that time taken up by meetings and orientation), I ended up taking some short cuts—and now I’m paying the price.

When I tried to use one rubric to grade technical communications work, I found that it gave too many points to the bibliography. If the paper included the correct citations, it earned an A for 25% of its grade. Worse, I didn’t notice that there was no category that covered sentence-level concerns. Students could (and did) write the most twisted, awkward sentence, and there was no way on the rubric to indicate the error or reduce the grade. I realize that I could have adjusted the rubric when I realized that it had flaws, but changing the standards after the work was turned in seemed unfair to me.

Flawed rubrics aren’t my only challenge. Earlier today, I received an email from a student who wants me to explain why I took 17 points off on his paper. I didn’t, of course. The paper earned a B-, which equates to an 83 on our grade scale. Even though I marked characteristics on the B and C columns on the rubric, the student doesn’t understand where the grade came from. I can only conclude that the rubric isn’t showing the nuances between letter grades at all. It’s just not working for me.

Several weeks ago, Andrea Lunsford discussed the process of having the class work on Creating a Rubric to Evaluate Student Projects. I love that idea. It is ideal for building student ownership and understanding, but I can’t quite figure out how to let students create their own rubrics without ending up with four different rubrics I have to grade by. Sometimes the ideal pedagogical practices just aren’t possible in the real classroom.

Thus, you find me, dear reader, trying to find a fair and realistic solution to my predicament. How can I create a rubric that isn’t cluttered with minor details and that students comprehend as it applies to their work? If you have any solutions to share, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

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