What is a rubric?

What is a rubric?

by Erin Clifford

When I think of a rubric the first thing that comes to my mind is the report cards I received as a child.  There would be a list of dimensions down the left side of the table (reading comprehension, spelling, etc…) and a scale across the top (Improvement Needed, Satisfactory, Good and Excellent) with check marks inside the boxes where my performance fell on the scale.   To decide where each student fell the teacher had a table where there were descriptions in each of the boxes of what achieving that rating would look like in each dimension.

Now, in Student Life, I use rubrics to more objectively look at any direct assessment of a student’s performance.  Direct assessment is anything where you are looking directly at the demonstrated learning itself.  It reveals what students know and can do.

Direct learning can be a blog post, a creative reflection assignment, a role play – anything where you can directly see the learning.

As I conduct a number of Mentorship Trainings over the year, one of my learning outcomes is to have students describe the role of a mentor.  In a post training survey I ask the students to (in their own words) describe the role of a mentor.   There are many dimensions to a good answer and my reading and subsequent judgement of the answers can be very subjective.  A rubric can take away some of that subjectivity.

I only have one dimension in this case:  the ability to describe the role of a mentor.  I have defined my scale as: basic, emerging and excellent.  Then I have to create descriptions for each of the little boxes in the table that describe what I would see in a basic answer, an emerging answer and an excellent answer.  From here I can look at the student’s answers and based on the description provided I can put them in the box of basic, emerging or excellent.  In a case like this I would leave the emerging scale blank so that I could write in why the student’s answer is somewhere between basic and excellent.  This is called a half-naked rubric.

Basic Emerging Excellent
Role of a Mentor A relationship between two people where one helps the other. A reciprocal relationship between someone with more experience and someone who wants to learn from that experience.


The mentor listens to the mentee, respects his or her autonomy and works to inspire and encourage mentee to reach his or her goals


As, I have created the direct assessment question, the descriptions in the rubric and I am doing the reading and rating, this is still a subjective process.  The use of a rubric can at least ensure that I am looking at the same criteria for each answer.

Before you use the rubric you may want to assess your assessment technique.  Try using the Meta Rubric from Campus Labs and test the rubric.  To work towards making the process more object try having someone else read and rate the answers.    These steps will help make a subjective process more objective.


Erin Clifford is Student Life Coordinator (Mentorship Programs) and a member of the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Committee

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