What Does It Take to Build Better Rubrics in the Classroom



To build better rubrics, it needs to be high quality. According to Karin Hess, author of “6 Key Questions to Better Rubrics”, 3 important qualities of a better rubric are:

  • Describe learning expectations
  • Frame actionable feedback to advance student learning
  • Accurately evaluate student progress over time

Creating a better rubric is more than slapping expectations on a paper, assigning some percentage points, and calling it a day. Rubrics need to be designed with care and precision. With that said, I will integrate information from 3 articles and put together steps to create a great rubric.

Rubric: Its Meaning and What it Looks Like?

Before I get into the steps to create a great rubric, I want to touch upon the definition of a rubric and what it looks like.

The rubric defines what is expected and what will be assessed. It is a scoring guide used to evaluate performance, a product, or a project. It consists of 3 parts: performance critique, rating scale, and indicators, according to the article “What is a Rubric?”.

The article describes what a rubric looks like:

What a Rubric Looks Like Image
What a Rubric Looks Like?

Steps of Building Better Rubric

Step 1: Determine Your Goal

I agree with Kelly Roell, author of the article “How to Create a Rubric in 6 Steps”. Roell emphasizes to ask yourself these questions before you decide the type of rubric to use:

  1. How detail do I want my feedback to be?
  2. How will I break down my expectations for this project?
  3. Are all the tasks equally important?
  4. How do I want to assess performance?
  5. What standards must the students hit to achieve acceptable or exceptional performance?
  6. Do I want to give one final grade on the project, or a cluster of smaller grades based on several criteria?
  7. Am I grading based on the work or participation? or both?

The article “Tips to Writing a Strong Rubric” suggests that when you want to grade an assignment, list the most relevant goals of the assignment. You may likely have many aims for the assignment, but you want to make sure you are using the criteria related to the assignment. Ask yourself what you are trying to assess with this assignment (neat workflow, certain format, or need not be graded).

Another suggestion from the same article is to choose 3 to 7 criteria that satisfy the goals. More than that, it will overwhelm students and teachers. I would suggest 5 max. Criteria need to be measurable, because there needs to be evidence of whether students have achieved them. We all know that “understanding” or “knowing” is not easily measured, but what students do to show their understanding or knowledge can be. Sometimes one criterion will satisfy a common core standard, and sometimes several criteria on a rubric could satisfy the same standard.

Step 2: Choose a Rubric Type

There are two types of rubrics: analytical and holistic, widely used in teaching.

Gives explicit actionable feedback – shows strengths and weaknessesNot much actionable feedback
More accurate scoring optionsQuicker to grade
Assess components of a finished piece of workOverall quality of piece of work as a whole
Best for assignments with many components, or for targeted feedbackBest for assignments where there are large numbers to grade
Differences Between Analytic and Holistic Rubrics

Analytic rubric is the standard grid rubric teachers routinely use to assess students’ work. It lists the criteria for an assignment and describes these criteria in varying levels of quality.

With an analytic rubric, criteria for the students’ work are listed in the left column, and performance levels are listed across the top. Inside the grid, there are squares that have the specs for each level.

Below is an example of an analytic rubric provided by Quick Rubric:


According to the “Tips to Writing a Strong Rubric” article, “Different students will perform at varying levels, so it is important to have a range of possibilities for grading, not simply yes or no, or good or bad”. The article emphasizes “The performance ratings can be either numerical, descriptive, or both. A rubric might divide quality of performance into three parts: 3 – Excellent, 2 – Satisfactory, and 1 – Needs Work. Each criterion needs to be described for each of these performance ratings. What makes the use of a visual “satisfactory” versus “excellent”? The interior of the rubric matches the criteria with the performance ratings for the different shades of merit.”

A holistic rubric describes the attributes of each grade and level. It is much easier to create, but much more difficult to use accurately.

Holistic rubric gives an overall score that considers the entire piece. This is useful for essay questions on paper and pencil tests.

A teacher provides letter grades or numbers (1-4 or 1-6, for example), and then assigns expectations for each score, according to Roell, author of “How to Create a Rubric in 6 Steps.”

Here is a Holistic Rubric example:


Step 3: Determine Your Criteria

This is where you need to figure out what areas matter to the quality of the work being produced, as suggested by the “What is a Rubric” article. What do you want evidence of in the final product?

  • List all the possible criteria you might want students to show in the assignment, including criteria for the process of creating the product and the quality of the product
  • Decide which criteria are “non-negotiable” Ideally, your rubric will have three to five performance criteria.

“What is a Rubric?” suggests if you are having a hard time deciding which criteria are “non-negotiable”, focus on the criteria by asking:

  • What are the learning outcomes of this unit?
  • Which learning outcomes will be listed in the rubric?
  • Which skills are essential at competent or skill levels for the task or assignment to be complete?
  • How important is the completion of the task?

Another suggestion by Roell is “You’ll want to be able to spot the criteria quickly while grading and be able to explain them quickly when instructing your students. In an analytic rubric, the criteria are typically listed along the left column.”

Step 4: Write Explicit Outcomes that Match Each Criterion with Each Performance Level

“Tips to Writing a Strong Rubric” makes a good point to ask what makes for a good answer? The answer is to look at each criterion separately. The article suggests:

First, write what would satisfy that criterion the best. Then fill in the cell that would get the worst score. After you have your two bookends, go back, and fill in the middle. The best part of a rubric is that it shows all the levels, but the difference between each level needs to be clear, like steps on a ladder, so it is clear why a student received the score he did.

  • Use numbers where appropriate
  • Use consistent leveling throughout; do not make big jumps between each box for one criterion, and then do incremental steps between others.
  • Use descriptive adjectives to differentiate each level
  • Include what the performance/product is missing in the middle levels

Finally, make sure your rubric works. Are you using the correct criteria? Do the best assignments get the best grades? If you have previous student work on the same assignment, test your rubric on a few samples. If that isn’t an option, see how well your rubric stacks up against the student work you receive, and revise for future assignments.

Step 5: Determine Performance Level and Develop a Rating Scale

You will need to figure out what type of scores you will assign based on each level of mastery, after you have determined the broad levels, you would like students to show mastery of.

Performance levels can be numerical, descriptive, or both. According to the “Tips to Writing a Strong Rubric” article, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, and they are:

  • Numerical performance levels lend themselves to easy scoring, add up the numbers
  • Sometimes, numerical grades do not matter as much, as in a self-assessment.
  • Descriptive ratings may be more informative for students to see how well they perform, and not necessarily what final numerical grade they are receiving.

“What is a Rubric?” article suggests how to develop a rating scale and indicators of quality. I have listed their suggestions below:

Develop a rating scale.

Rating scales can include either numerical or descriptive labels. Usually, a rating scale consists of an even number of performance levels. If an odd number is used, the middle level becomes a catch-all category.

1. Show your rating scale beginning on the left with the highest. On the chart below, the highest level of performance is described on the left. A few possible labels for a four-point scale include:

5 Points3 Points1 Point0 Points
Exceeds expectationsMeets expectationsProgressingNot there yet
SuperiorGoodFairNeeds work
ExcellentGoodNeeds ImprovementUnacceptable
SophisticatedHighly CompetentFairly CompetentNot Yet Competent
Rating Scale

Develop indicators of quality.

Define the performance quality of the ideal assessment for each criterion, one at a time. Begin with the highest level of the scale to define top quality performance. Remember, this is the level you want all students to achieve, and it should challenge.

1. Create indicators present at all performance levels.

2. Make sure there is continuity between the criteria for exceeds vs. meets and meets vs. does not meet expectations. The difference between a 2 and a 3 performance should not be more than the difference between a 3 and a 4 performance.

3. Edit the indicators to make sure the levels reflect variance in quality, and not a shift in importance of the criteria.

4. Make sure the indicators reflect equal steps along the scale. The difference between 4 and 3 should equal the difference between 3 – 2 and 2 – 1. “Yes, and more,” “Yes,” “Yes, but,” and “No” are ways for the rubric developer to think about how to describe performance at each scale point.

Some common descriptive terms to indicate that progression are listed below.

Task RequirementsAllMostAdequately varied: Occasional repetitiveVery few or none
FrequencyAlwaysUsuallySome of the TimeRarely or not at all
AccuracyNo ErrorsFew errorsSome errorsFrequent errors
ComprehensibilityAlways comprehensibleAlmost always comprehensibleGist and main ideas are comprehensibleIsolated bits are comprehensible
Content Coverage
Fully developed,
Fully developed, fully supportedAdequately developed, adequately supported
Partially developed,
Partially developed, partially supportedMinimally developed, minimally supported
Vocabulary Range VarietyBroad Highly varied: Non-repetitiveAdequately varied: Occasional repetitiveLimited Lacks variety repetitiveVery Limited Basic memorized highly repetitive

What can I consider as I review a rubric?

These questions can help determine if the rubric is effective:

1. Are the features of each performance level clear? Will students self-assess by having the descriptors? Will the descriptors give students enough information to know what they need to improve?

2. Does the rubric adequately reflect the range of levels at which students can perform given tasks?

3. Are the criteria at each level defined clear to make sure scoring is correct, unbiased, and consistent? Could several instructors use the rubric to score a student’s performance within the same range?

4. Does the rubric reflect both process and product?

5. Are all criteria equally important, or is one variable stronger than the others?

6. Is the language descriptively used for students to determine what is being measured in both qualitative and quantitative methods?

More considerations related to rubrics are listed below:

1. Rubrics need to be piloted, or field tested, to ensure they measure the variable intended by the designer.

2. Rubrics can be discussed with students to understand expectations.

3. Rubrics make sure scoring is correct, unbiased, and consistent.

4. Rubrics list expectations of student performance aligned with the conceptual lesson or unit delivered. Students shouldn’t be expected to do what they haven’t been taught or shown.

My Takeaway

When I read the article “6 Key Questions to Better Rubrics”, I immediately thought of teachers struggling to create a rubric, including myself, when I was teaching. The information presented in 3 articles helped me write this blog post. Now, I understand more about building a great rubric.


Hess, K. (2022, October 10.) 6 Key Questions to Build Better Rubric A framework for creating assessment tools that clearly communicate assignment expectations and encourage high-quality work. https://www.edutopia.org/article/6-key-questions-build-better-rubrics

Faculty Innovation Center (2017, October 26.) What is a Rubric?


Roell, K. (2019, July 03.) How to Create a Rubric in 6 Steps


Tips to Writing a Strong Rubric


About the author

Maria Lee
By Maria Lee