What Exactly Does “Suck” Mean? Assessment Rubrics for Formative Assessment

At their most basic, assessment rubrics are descriptions of performance quality that are used to assess learner performance by clarifying lesson outcome and the desired outcome. Rubrics also provide learners with the qualities their course work should posses for demonstration of content management and assist instructors with teaching, coordinating instruction and assessment of performance, and helping learners learn by focusing on the critical aspects of content mastery by describing performance quality. In fact, it is the description of performance that separates grading rubrics from other job aids used for assessment of learning. In short, assessment rubrics are useful in assessing complex performance, helping learners assess their own work and providing instructor s with feedback targeted at the learning criteria.


Rating Scale

A checklist is used when the criteria to be judged can broken into yes/no, true/false, present/absent, or other 2-option responses.

A rating scale is a set of metrics that are assessed using a scale.  Evaluative scales, such as excellent-good-fair-poor, or frequency scales, such as always-sometimes, never, are used.

·         Do not have performance level descriptions

·         Useful for:

-          assessing whether directions are followed

-          simple performance assessments

·         Have criteria by no performance level description

·         Do not have performance level descriptions

·         Do not describe “why”

·         Evaluative scales are not very useful in the classroom

·         Frequency scales are useful for behavior and effort ratings


When developing assessment rubrics, instructors often include assignment directions, which are not tied to learning objectives in the rubric. This is not appropriate for assessment rubrics. Assessment rubrics are not focused on the requirements of the assignment, nor are they used to count things. For example, a rubric that measures the quantity of response options does not lend itself to grading rubrics. In addition, learning objectives with only two possible outcomes, such as right/wrong, do not lend themselves to assessment rubrics. Assessment rubrics are focused on describing and evaluating the quality of performance comparted to mastery of the learning objective. They provide a benchmark for measuring performance and describe what mastery looks like for both the evaluator and the learner.

Assessment rubrics are described by how they treat criteria and how widely the rubric can be applied. Analytic rubrics assess each learning objective criterion separately. They are very good at providing feedback because each criterion has unique information that is assessed. Holistic rubrics assess all criteria simultaneously. While quicker to use, they are not as good for providing feedback. General rubrics are applicable for more than one task and can help learners by informing them what to look for in their work. Task-specific rubrics are applicable to single assignments and are more specific than general rubrics. 


How Rubric Treats Criteria







Assesses each criterion separately from others

Since information on each criterion is separate, it is good for providing feedback

Takes more time to use

Assessing case study scenarios where components, such as size up, strategic direction, and tactics employed are assessed separately


Assess all of the criteria at the same time


Not good for feedback

Assessing case study scenario based on successful outcome decision

How Rubric is Applied


Applied to more than one task in the same learning domain

Helps learners know what to look for

Need to practice in order to apply well

Using the same grading rubric for pump calculations or drug calculations across a variety of scenarios


Used for one assignment only

Easy to use

Can’t be shared with learners

Unique rubric for each task

Scenario specific calculations


Analytic, general rubrics

Treat each criterion separately and applied to many tasks in the same domain


Formative assessment and grading

Analytic, task specific rubrics

Treat each criterion separately and applied to only one task


Sometimes for grading, but not recommended

Holistic, general rubrics

Looks at all criteria at the same time and applied to many tasks in the same domain


Assessment of simple skills

Holistic, task specific rubrics

Looks at all criteria at the same time and applied to one task


Grading situations where learners are not given feedback or opportunities to improve


When developing assessment rubrics instructors should focus on making sure that the criteria developed support learning in order to apply the rubric during both formative and summative assessment. Assessment criteria should be appropriate in that it assesses the goal or objective. The criteria should have a clear meaning that is understood by the learner and evaluator and which is observable by the evaluator. Each criterion should be unique and assess a specific facet of the learning objective and when all the criteria are assembled, they provide a full assessment of performance compared to mastery. Finally, the assessment criteria should describe performance over a range and that the performance should be described in a way that is focused on what is observable in the performance rather than the conclusions. The range of performance selected should be driven by the learning objective rather than a preconceived notion of how many categories there should be. Naming the performance levels should provide information to the learner as to where their performance is compared to the standard. Common errors when developing assessment rubrics include:

  • Scoring more than one skill at a time
  • Scoring extraneous features, such as neatness
  • Scoring by counting parts rather than by examining mastery of the learning objectives
  • Scoring for things that the learner has not been cued to
  • Scoring products rather than outcomes
  • Including directions for the task

Remember that assessment rubrics are evaluating the substance of the performance, not surface features.

When creating assessment rubrics, first determine which criterion matches what is desired in learner performance, focusing on what is to be learned and how learning is demonstrated. Next ensure that the desired performance level and intermediate levels are well defined and understandable by those who will use the rubric for learning and assessing performance. Finally, review and revise the criteria as needed. This includes sharing the criteria with others to solicit feedback on understanding and application.

Defining Criteria for Assessment Rubrics

Appropriate – Does the criterion reflect a learning goal or objective?

Defined – Does the criterion have a understood, agreed upon meaning to both the learner, instructor, and assessor?

Observable – Can the criterion be seen or heard by someone other than the learner?

Distinct – Is the criterion reflecting a unique aspect of the learning outcome?

Complete – Will all the criteria be able to assess the whole learning outcome?

Gradient – Is there a range of performance levels identified?


Defining Levels of Performance

Descriptive – Describes observable qualities

Clear – Leaners and instructors understand the description

Depth – The performance levels cover the full range of possible performance

Unique – Each performance level is distinct from the others

Centered – The desired level of performance is placed at the right level on the assessment scale

Described – The performance level is well-described at each level along the performance scale


In the learning environment, several strategies can be applied to improve their success and usefulness. When the assessment rubric is first introduced, encourage participants to ask clarifying questions about the rubric and the measures of success. Having participants restate the rubric in their own words helps to ensure understanding of the rubric. Allowing participants to score previous learners performance will provide a framework for classifying performance. Having them describe their decision emphasizes understanding the rubric and its criteria. Finally, if time allows, consider having students co-create the assessment rubric.

The development and application of assessment rubrics is a critical feature of well-designed training and education programs. Assessment rubrics provide a means for assessing performance and matching performance with course goals and learning objectives. In addition to their use by instructors in measuring that learning has occurred and to what level, they allow learners the opportunity to assess their understanding of desired performance and the level of performance to achieve mastery of the learning content.

1 Comment

Assessment Rubrics

December 30, 2020 01:18 PM by Edward Kensler

I believe that some “Assessment Rubrics” being used today are better described as “check sheets” as opposed to true assessment tools.  As stated in the article, the Rubrics should look at the “performance quality” of the work being done, not just simply confirm that the student used two paragraphs in his/her response and/or that the student was able to simply list/identify four (4) actions items in response to reading a case study.   

We have work hard over the years improving our ability to effectively assess our student’s performance levels in both the cognitive and psychomotor domains and through better development and use of Rubrics will we become even more effective in evaluating our students affective domain.

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What Exactly Does “Suck” Mean? Assessment Rubrics for Formative Assessment