Standards-based Scoring and Standards-based Rubrics: Three steps to making them, and a fourth to let your students differentiate them to suit their learning experience!

My home state of Colorado is engaged in moving away from grading student work on points and percentages and toward standards-based scoring. This means that rubrics, and in particular standards-based rubrics, will become more important for educational professionals. Anyone working in education knows that when it comes to rubrics, professional practice is wide and varied within schools, let alone across districts and states. This transition is taking quite a while–and will take quite a while longer–so we have time for a long blog to think about it.

The four parts of this series are meant to help educational professionals bring their own practice up to standard before they expect the same from their students or, more importantly, before they are expected to expect the same from their students. In this first installment, I’ll discuss the problems with rubrics. Three other parts will follow at the same publication time once a week for the next month. I hope you’ll stick with me all the way through, and look forward to your participation along the way via comments on the blog, or with me on Twitter.

Step I: Identifying The Problems with Rubrics
You might be able to make a rubric without thinking about it, or at the very least, grab one off the web. That said, there are four things I think we all know to be true about rubrics created or Googled without much thought:

1) Teachers often grumble when the word “rubric” is mentioned. In most of these cases, it’s because rubrics are not well understood or well used. Where they are well understood and used, teachers are convinced good rubrics take a lot of time to develop. Teachers don’t have a lot of time, so that makes rubrics a problem.

2) Students also often grumble when they hear the word rubric. From their perspective, the rubrics they encounter in class are often vague, subjective, or overly complicated. This makes those rubrics difficult for them to use in support of their learning. Student frustrations are rapidly compounded in schools that lack a horizontally and vertically integrated rubric design philosophy—as most do. Absent a common philosophy, students are subjected to a wide variety of rubrics, often with conflicting perspectives and sometimes even with conflicting scoring categories. Learning supports that aren’t actually consistent scaffolds for student learning are confusing to students, and this makes rubrics a problem.

3) Whenever teachers use an internet search engine to find a rubric, they often end up with what a colleague of mine, Brian Schoch, calls a “Goobric.” Yes, he calls it that because it came from a Google search, and yes, I think it’s usually a hot gooey mess when it comes to implementing it in your classroom. Why? If students often find the rubrics their teachers create to be vague and subjective, they’re likely to be even more confused by a rubric created by someone they don’t know, and have no context to understand. Assessment that isn’t aligned to instruction and the instructor is confusing to students, and this makes “Goobrics” a problem.

4) Finally, given all the above I don’t think anyone in our profession will really be surprised when I say that on the whole, rubrics are most often used for final grading and scoring, rather than as the learning support the name implies, and which they were intended to be when first introduced. Indeed, in many cases rubrics are not even written until student work is well under way. That can’t possibly help anyone but the teacher who must grade the final work, and that’s another problem with rubrics.

If you agree with me that these are some of the problems with rubrics, you’ll probably agree that there just has to be a better way. Over the last three to four years the work I began in BIE workshops has grown considerably thanks to the collaborative participation of those in my independent assessment workshops with ACE Leadership and Health Leadership High Schools, each part of the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. Together we’ve found a pathway with promise.

I hope you’ll join me next week for Step II: Shifting from Fixed-Mindset Product-based Rubrics to Growth-mindset Standards-based Rubrics. Until then, let me know if you have other problems with rubrics by sharing them in the comments for this blog, or with me on Twitter!

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