In Step I, I considered the problems with rubrics. In this step, we’ll start with Problem 4, the fact that rubrics are most often used for final grading or scoring of student work rather than as a learning support. This problem is related to Problem 1, that teachers believe good rubrics take a lot of time to develop.
If we’re honest about our practice, however, most teachers will admit that the far more common reason rubrics are saved for final grading is that they are written as descriptions of the final product, or as Susan Brookhart calls it in her book, task. That’s true whether that product is a traditional essay or a far more complex authentic learning experience. Those “Goobrics” I mentioned earlier are almost always product-based rubrics, and the reason they are a problem for most teachers is because one teacher’s ideal of a final product is often different from another’s. Students know this problem as one of subjectivity, and they encounter in most of the rubrics they see. As teachers we often miss it, taking our standards for the objectively correct standards and not realizing that other teachers have other standards.
That might have been excusable ten years ago, but with the advent of Common Core Standards, NextGen Science Standards, and the C3 Social Studies Frameworks, it’s getting harder and harder for teachers to defend these personal product-based standards. This is even more the case in states where teachers are held accountable to student performance on mandated standards. It’s hard for a lot of teachers to accept, but on the whole we’re no longer in the standards creation business, but the standards assessment business. That’s what Standards-based scoring is all about, and that’s why a Standards-based Rubric is far preferable to a Product-based Rubric.
What’s the difference? While I’m hardly the first one to note it (See Brookhart, Goe, or Shrock, for example), the difference is representative of a larger shift in thinking about assessment: that from a focus on Summative Assessment to Formative Assessment. A Product-based Rubric is all about the attributes, skills, and knowledge (ASKs) a student might demonstrate in the successful completion of the final product. By contrast, a Standards-based Rubric is all about the ASKs a student will need to master in order to complete the final product.
This shift is also rooted in the way we think about learning. An emphasis on Summative Assessment assumes a fixed-mindset (Dweck). Some students will succeed, and demonstrate mastery while others will not. It also assumes that the teacher’s job is to judge and separate students into the categories of the rubric. An emphasis on Formative Assessment (Stiggins), asserts that as educators it is our job to scaffold student growth toward mastery over the course of the work, and that this growth-mindset should be possible for all of our students.
How does this change our rubrics? Our first step is to focus on the dimensions, or “rows” of the rubric.
In a traditional rubric, these dimensions usually describe a product (i.e., a thesis, a presentation, a model, etc), and what that final product must look like to score well. Often, those descriptors rely on vague and subjective terms that can be reduced to whether the student did the work as the teacher expected, or not. (See Image 1). Yet even when aligned to standards, it may also be very difficult for students to see how those standards contribute to success.
Image 1: Generic Product-based Rubric
By contrast, in a Standards-based Rubric the dimensions, or rows, should list the standards that a student must master in order to succeed in completing the product. This can be done in one of two ways. In the first way, you can copy and paste the appropriate standards on the left-hand column of your rubric, and then offer “student friendly” versions of the standard in the “At Standard” or “Proficient” column. Alternatively, you can just copy and paste the standards into that column, and use the left hand column to put a simple phrase or bullet point that students can use to refer to the more detailed language of the standards.
Image 2: Generic Standards-based Rubric
In this one shift, we’re starting to solve several of the problems with rubrics. Copying and pasting standards saves teachers a lot of time (Problem 1) and, in most (but not all) cases, it eliminates vague and subjective wording for students (Problem 2). It also allows you to use standardized language to tailor a rubric to your students and their project, and that addresses the problem of “Goobrics” (Problem 3). That said, I don’t think all your problems are solved.
What you have at this point is what Jennifer Gonzalez calls a “single point rubric.” While this approach is gaining some traction, from a practical point of view single-point rubrics are still too focused on summative assessment of the final product. In many cases, they are still a product-based list of final deliverables. Even if they are standards-based, they only focus on what it means to be “At Standard” and not much on how students might get there. As such, they’re still rooted in a summative assessment, fixed mindset rather than a formative assessment, growth mindset.
While the shift to Standards-based Rubrics is a big one for teachers accustomed to scoring student work based on a checklist of final deliverables, it’s not enough for students unless we take another step. We’ll do that in our next installment, “Step III: Scoring vs. Coaching Categories.” In the meantime, if you have a Standards-based Rubric you’d like to share, or thoughts about using them, please do so in the comments on this blog, or with me on Twitter!