Adoption Definition Essay Rubric

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Rubric Development

Guidelines for creating and using a rubric to communicate expectations.

What is a rubric?

Rubrics are formal systems for deciding how to describe the quality of a variety of products, activities, processes, and behaviors. These descriptions may be used for formative feedback, determination of student grades, or data for assessment of performance on a specific student learning outcome.

Examples of materials that can be evaluated with a rubric

  • research reports
  • answers on essay exams
  • works of poetry or fiction
  • musical recitals
  • theatrical performances
  • athletic performance
  • individual and group presentations
  • poster presentations
  • participation as a member of a team or group
  • grant proposals
  • portfolios

Rubrics can be used in a variety of ways

  • communicate expectations about “what counts” as high-quality versus lower-quality work
  • reflection and self-assessment of one’s work
  • assigning grades to student assignments and exams
  • guidelines to structure the feedback provided by supervisors of field experiences or internships
  • evaluating grant proposals, portfolios for award of prizes, application portfolios for prospective employees, etc.
  • assessment of specific student learning outcomes by departments for evaluation of curriculum and teaching strategies

Types of Rubrics

Holistic Rubric
Rubric consists of a set of descriptors that generate a single, global score for the entire work. 

Analytic Rubric
Rubric is comprised of a set of focused holistic rubrics for specific components that will be evaluated independently. These components might be reported separately or they might be combined to create a global score that is used for determining a grade. 

Components of a rubric

Performance Elements

Describe the major attributes of the work that will contribute to the overall evaluation. 

Category Scale

Describe the method used to assign work to global categories or to assign points for the performance element. Points need not be assigned to categories unless you plan to combine the performance elements to compute an overall grade. If performance elements will be used as independent assessments of a specific learning outcome, category names without numerical values will be as useful as point values. If performance elements will be combined to compute an overall grade, elements can be weighted differently (or varying amounts of points assigned to categories) so that different elements can contribute more or less to the overall grade, based on their importance for the assignment. 

Descriptors of the criteria used for classifying work or assigning points for an element

Describe the characteristics of the performance or work that must be present for the work to be assigned to a given level of achievement. These descriptions may include the following types of information: 

  • Descriptions of the general characteristics of work assigned to each level of quality.
  • Specific, concrete examples or telltale signs of what to look for at each level of performance. These examples are useful for providing specific feedback to students without writing marginal notes. Examples may include characteristics that contribute to a higher rating (e.g., assertions are always supported with empirical evidence or a cited work) or common errors that lead to a lower rating (e.g., frequent errors in spelling or grammar).

Elements or




(Weight of Element
for Grade)

Information included is relevant to the question   3

Answer is complete

Information included in the answer is accurate   3
Organization, logic, and clarity of the answer   2
Mechanics of writing (spelling, punctuation, grammar)   2
Total Points   20

Steps for constructing a rubric

  1. Determine the elements or criteria that will be used to evaluate the work.
  2. Identify the difference between good work and weaker work.
  3. Describe the procedures used for making judgments (or assigning scores). Write clear descriptions of the types of work that will be assigned to each category or level of achievement. These descriptions will help users apply the rubric consistently over time, increasing the reliability and perceived fairness of the evaluation process.

Examples of scales describing levels of quality:

Below ExpectationsMeets ExpectationsExceeds Expectations
 Unacceptable Developing AcceptableExemplary 
InadequateBarely AdequateGoodExemplary
UnacceptableMarginalMeets ExpectationsExceeds Expectations
Missing or Serious
Below ExpectationsMeet ExpectationsExcellent Work

Scale for evaluating behavioral elements in a rubric (in class, in group activities, as team members, during a presentation, etc.)

RarelySometimesOftenAlmost Always

How do I develop the descriptors for the categories?

One strategy is to begin by describing the characteristics of the “ideal” and the “worst case.” Intermediate examples can then be described by identifying the most common errors that make an example fall short of “ideal” or the redeeming qualities that make an example better than the “worst case.”

Another strategy is to use samples of existing work. Sort the examples into three piles corresponding to three levels of quality – the “best” work, the “worst” work, and "intermediate" work. What are the common characteristics of the examples in the “best” pile? These are the descriptors for the top category. What are the typical problems seen in the “worst” work? These are descriptors that should be included for the lowest category.

Don’t reinvent the wheel! Look at the descriptors used in an existing rubric and revise these to adapt them for your assignment. See the Examples of Rubrics page for links to a variety of rubrics.

Rubrics are fluid. Expect that after you develop your first rubric, you will think of ways to modify it the first time you use it to evaluate student work.

Use the rubric to give students feedback about their work

If you make notes on a copy of the rubric during grading, you can easily provide detailed feedback to your students by circling or highlighting components of the rubric that describe relevant qualities of the student’s work that determined your decision to assign one category of quality instead of another. This strategy can save graders time. You are no longer writing the same marginal notation on paper after paper.

This is one reason why you might want to refine and edit the rubric. You may discover characteristics or errors that appear in student work that you didn’t think about when the first rubric was developed. These can be added in the next version of the rubric.

Why use a rubric? How will using a rubric help me as a teacher?

  1. Rubrics create a focus on instruction and learning.
  2. Rubrics improve the clarity of the feedback provided to students – students get a clear description of their strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Rubrics characterize the desired results/products of student work objectively – they give students clear instruction about the instructor’s expectations for an assignment.
  4. Rubrics are operational definitions for the standards used to evaluate performance – enables multiple graders to evaluate student work consistently and reliably.
  5. Students can use a rubric to assess their own work – they can have a better idea about whether they are meeting expectations before they submit their work for formal evaluation; thus, rubrics develop competence in self-evaluation.
  6. Rubrics engage students in the learning process – when students can describe exactly what is expected of them, they may be more strongly motivated to work to meet these expectations. 

Template for creating a rubric

The below link is to a Word file that contains a template for a rubric including instructions for how to use and modify the template to meet individual grading needs. Instructors can download this file and modify it as needed to construct their own rubric: Rubric Template (doc).

How good is your rubric?

Want to evaluate the quality of your rubric (or one you are thinking about adopting)? 

Bonnie Mullinix created A Rubric for Rubrics‌ to evaluate rubrics for Monmouth University.

Additional Information about rubrics

Additional websites with information about developing rubrics can be found on the "Web Sites on Rubric Development" web page. 

Updated: 03/31/15  ecr

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