A MiddleWeb Classic: Exploring Rubrics!


A little history: This article first appeared on the MiddleWeb site (with permission from the author) in 1997, in the early years of rubrics in the classroom. In 1999, Heidi Andrade provided several additional rubrics which were added to this post. More than 15 years after this material first appeared at MiddleWeb and long after its original link was functional, it continues to be one of the most sought-after MiddleWeb resources. For that reason, we’ve reposted it here and redirected the original link to this new page. At the end of this post, we’ve also included links to several rubrics associated with inference, independent writing, and literary conversation.

Please note that the portion of this post which was published at Educational Leadership can also be accessed at the ASCD site (4/20/14). Also see her Educational Leadership article (February 2000), “Using Rubrics to Promote Thinking & Learning” for suggestions on designing instructional rubrics. Today, Dr. Andrade is an education associate dean at the University of Albany (SUNY) and continues to be a leader in the field of formative/classsroom assessment and rubrics. In a more recent Educational Leadership article (January 2008), she emphasizes that “Rubrics can be a powerful self-assessment tool—if teachers disconnect them from grades and give students time and support to revise their work.”

For more contemporary resources, including Common Core perspectives, be sure to visit our MiddleWeb resource roundup: All About Rubrics


Understanding Rubrics

by Heidi Goodrich Andrade
originally published in Educational Leadership, 54(4)
© Heidi Goodrich 1996

Every time I introduce rubrics to a group of teachers the reaction is the same – instant appeal (“Yes, this is what I need!”) followed closely by panic (“Good grief, how can I be expected to develop a rubric for everything?”). When you learn what rubrics do–and why–you can create and use them to support and assess student learning without losing your sanity.

What Is a Rubric?

mw_classics21A rubric is a scoring tool that lists the criteria for a piece of work, or “what counts” (for example, purpose, organization, details, voice, and mechanics are often what count in a piece of writing); it also articulates gradations of quality for each criterion, from excellent to poor. The term defies a dictionary definition, but it seems to have established itself, so I continue to use it.

The example in Figure 1 (adapted from Perkins et al 1994) lists the criteria and gradations of quality for verbal, written, or graphic reports on student inventions – for instance, inventions designed to ease the Westward journey for 19th century pioneers for instance, or to solve a local environmental problem, or to represent an imaginary culture and its inhabitants, or anything else students might invent.

This rubric lists the criteria in the column on the left: The report must explain (1) the purposes of the invention, (2) the features or parts of the invention and how they help it serve its purposes, (3) the pros and cons of the design, and (4) how the design connects to other things past, present, and future. The rubric could easily include criteria related to presentation style and effectiveness, the mechanics of written pieces, and the quality of the invention itself.

The four columns to the right of the criteria describe varying degrees of quality, from excellent to poor. As concisely as possible, these columns explain what makes a good piece of work good and a bad one bad.


Why use rubrics?

Rubrics appeal to teachers and students for many reasons. First, they are powerful tools for both teaching and assessment. Rubrics can improve student performance, as well as monitor it, by making teachers’ expectations clear and by showing students how to meet these expectations. The result is often marked improvements in the quality of student work and in learning. Thus, the most common argument for using rubrics is they help define “quality.” One student actually didn’t like rubrics for this very reason: “If you get something wrong,” she said, “your teacher can prove you knew what you were supposed to do!” (Marcus 1995).

A second reason that rubrics are useful is that they help students become more thoughtful judges of the quality of their own and others’ work. When rubrics are used to guide self- and peer-assessment, students become increasingly able to spot and solve problems in their own and one another’s work. Repeated practice with peer-assessment, and especially self-assessment, increases students’ sense of responsibility for their own work and cuts down on the number of “Am I done yet?” questions.

Third, rubrics reduce the amount of time teachers spend evaluating student work. Teachers tend to find that by the time a piece has been self- and peer-assessed according to a rubric, they have little left to say about it. When they do have something to say, they can often simply circle an item in the rubric, rather than struggling to explain the flaw or strength they have noticed and figuring out what to suggest in terms of improvements. Rubrics provide students with more informative feedback about their strengths and areas in need of improvement.

Fourth, teachers appreciate rubrics because their “accordion” nature allows them to accommodate heterogeneous classes. The examples here have three or four gradations of quality, but there is no reason they can’t be “stretched” to reflect the work of both gifted students and those with learning disabilities.

Finally, rubrics are easy to use and to explain. Christine Hall, a fourth grade teacher, reflected on how both students and parents responded to her use of rubrics:

Students were able to articulate what they had learned, and by the end of the year could be accurate with their evaluations. Parents were very excited about the use of rubrics. During parent conferences I used sample rubrics to explain to parents their purpose, and how they were used in class. The reaction of parents was very encouraging. They knew exactly what their child needed to do to be successful.

How Do You Create Rubrics?

Rubrics are becoming increasingly popular with educators moving toward more authentic, performance- based assessments. Recent publications contain some rubrics (Brewer 1996; Marzano et al 1993). Chances are, however, that you will have to develop a few of your own rubrics to reflect your own curriculum and teaching style. To boost the learning leverage of rubrics, the rubric design process should engage students in the following steps:

1. Look at models: Show students examples of good and not-so-good work. Identify the characteristics that make the good ones good and the bad ones bad.
2. List criteria: Use the discussion of models to begin a list of what counts in quality work.
3. Articulate gradations of quality: Describe the best and worst levels of quality, then fill in the middle levels based on your knowledge of common problems and the discussion of not-so-good work.
4. Practice on models: Have students use the rubrics to evaluate the models you gave them in Step 1.
5. Use self- and peer-assessment: Give students their assignment. As they work, stop them occasionally for self- and peer-assessment.
6. Revise: Always give students time to revise their work based on the feedback they get in Step 5.
7. Use teacher assessment: Use the same rubric students used to assess their work yourself.

Step 1 may be necessary only when you are asking students to engage in a task with which they are unfamiliar. Steps 3 and 4 are useful but time-consuming; you can do these on your own, especially when you’ve been using rubrics for a while. A class experienced in rubric-based assessment can streamline the process so that it begins with listing criteria, after which the teacher writes out the gradations of quality, checks them with the students, makes revisions, then uses the rubric for self-, peer-, and teacher assessment.

Ann Tanona, a second grade teacher, went through the seven-step process with her students. The result was a rubric for assessing videotaped Reading Rainbow-style “book talks” (fig. 2).


Tips on designing rubrics

Ann’s rubric is powerful because it articulates the characteristics of a good “book talk” in students’ own words. It also demonstrates some of the difficulties of designing a good rubric.

Perhaps the most common challenge is avoiding unclear language, such as “creative beginning.” If a rubric is to teach as well as evaluate, terms like these must be defined for students. Admittedly, creative is a difficult word to define. Ann handled this problem by having a discussion of what the term “creative beginning” meant in the book talks. Patricia Crosby and Pamela Heinz, both seventh grade teachers, solved the same problem in a rubric for oral presentations by actually listing ways in which students could meet the criterion (fig. 3). This approach provides valuable information to students on how to begin a talk and avoids the need to define elusive terms like creative.


A second challenge in rubric design is avoiding unnecessarily negative language. The excerpt from the rubric in Figure 3 avoids words like boring by describing what was done during a so-so beginning to a talk and implicitly comparing it with the highest level of quality. Thus, students know exactly what they did wrong and how they can do better next time, not just that the opening to their talk was boring.

Articulating gradations of quality is often a challenge. It helps if you spend a lot of time thinking about criteria and how best to chunk them before going on to define the levels of quality. You might also try a clever technique I have borrowed from a fifth grade teacher in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She describes gradations of quality as: “Yes,” “Yes but,” “No but,” and “No.” For example, Figure 4 shows part of a rubric for evaluating a scrapbook that documents a story. This approach tends to work well, as long as you aren’t too rigid about it. Rigidity can have amusing results: One student wrote out the lowest level of quality for the criterion, “Is it anachronism free?” this way: “No, I did not remember to not use anachronism”!


What to Do Once You’ve Created Rubrics

Creating rubrics is the hard part – using them is relatively easy. Once you’ve created a rubric, give copies to students and ask them to assess their own progress on a task or project. Their assessments should not count toward a grade. The point is for the rubric to help students learn more and produce better final products, so including self-assessments in grades is unnecessary and can compromise students’ honesty.

Always give students time to revise their work after assessing themselves, then have them assess one another’s work. Peer-assessment takes some getting used to. Emphasize the fact that peer-assessment, like self-assessment, is intended to help everyone do better work. You may also need to hold students accountable for their assessments of a classmate’s work by having them sign off on the rubric they use. You can then see how fair and accurate their feedback is, and you can ask for evidence that supports their opinions when their assess-ments don’t match yours. Again, giving time for revision after peer-assessment is crucial.

Parents can use rubrics to help their children with their homework. Finally, when you assess student work, use the same rubric that was used for self- and peer-assessment. When you hand the marked rubric back with the students’ work, they’ll know what they did well and what they need to work on in the future.

Grading (if you must) is also relatively easy with rubrics. A piece of work that reflects the highest level of quality for each criterion obviously deserves an A, one that consistently falls in the lowest level is a D or F, and so on. Because one piece of work rarely falls in only one level of quality, many teachers average out the levels of quality, either formally or informally.

Rubrics can also be included in portfolios. However you use them, the idea is to support and to evaluate student learning. Students, as well as teachers, should respond to the use of rubrics by thinking, “Yes, this is what I need!”


• Brewer, R. (1996). Exemplars: A Teacher’s Solution. Underhill, VT: Exemplars.
• Marcus, J. (1995). “Data on the Impact of Alternative Assessment on Students.” Unpublished manuscript. The Education Cooperative, Wellesley, MA.
• Marzano, R., D. Pickering, and J. McTighe (1993). Assessing Student Outcomes: Performance Assessment Using the Dimensions of Learning Model. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
• Perkins, D., H. Goodrich, S. Tishman, and J. Mirman Owen (1994). Thinking Connections: Learning to Think and Thinking to Learn. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

from Heidi Goodrich Andrade
(See download links at end of large rubrics)

Persuasive Essay Prompt and Rubric
The State of California has a law that all students must be educated until they are 16 years old. This law passed after some debate. Some people thought it was a good law, some didn’t. Put yourself in these lawmakers’ shoes and argue either for or against this law.

In a 5-paragraph essay, be sure to:
— form an opinion on this issue and support it with strong arguments and relevant information.
— use your knowledge of democracy to explain how having or not having such a law would affect a democratic society like ours.


3 2 1
 Make a claim I make a claim and explain why it is controversial.  I make a claim but don’t explain why it is controversial.  I make a claim but it is buried, confused, or unclear.  I do not make a claim.
 Give reasons in support of the claim I give clear and accurate reasons in support of the claim.  I give reasons in support of the claim, but overlook important reasons.  I give 1 or 2 reasons which don’t support the claim well, and/or irrelevant or confusing reasons.  I do not give convincing reasons in support of the claim.
 Consider reasons against the claim I thoroughly discuss reasons against the claim and explain why the claim is valid anyway.  I discuss reasons against claim, but leave out important reasons and/or don’t explain why the claim still stands.  I acknowledge that there are reasons against the claim but don’t explain them.  I do not give reasons against the claim.
 Relate the claim to democracy I discuss how democratic principles and democracy can be used both in support of and against the claim.  I discuss how democratic principles and democracy can be used to support the claim.  I say that democracy and democratic principles are relevant but do not explain how or why clearly.  I do not mention democratic principles or democracy.
 Organization My writing is well organized, has a compelling opening, strong informative body and satisfying conclusion. Has appropriate paragraph format.  My writing has a clear beginning, middle and end. I generally use appropriate paragraph format.  My writing is usually organized but sometimes gets off topic. Has several errors in paragraph format.  My writing is aimless and disorganized.
 Word choice The words I use are striking but natural, varied and vivid.  I use mostly routine words.  My words are dull, uninspired or they sound like I am trying too hard to impress.  I use the same words over and over and over…. Some words may be confusing.
Sentence Fluency My sentences are clear, complete and of different lengths.  I wrote well-constructed but routine sentences.  My sentences are often flat or awkward. Some run-ons and fragments.  Many run-ons, fragments and awkward phrasings make my essay hard to read.
 Conventions I use first-person form, and I use correct sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and spelling.  My spelling is correct on common words. some erros in grammar and punctuation. I need to revise it again.  Frequent errors are distracting to the reader but do not interfere with the meaning of my paper.  Many errors in grammar, capitalization, spelling and punctuation make my paper hard to read.

A more generic version of the rubric above appears in this EL article.

Download persuasive essay rubric in grid format

Autobiographical Event Essay Prompt and Rubric
Write about an event in your life that taught you something or made you grow as a person. Tell the story in a way that will let your readers enter into it and understand what it meant to you.








Organization My story has a strong lead that develops readers’ interest, a developed middle that builds tension, and a satisfying ending that provides closure, all in an order that flows like water. My story has either a strong lead, a developed middle or a satisfying ending but not all three. Maybe the middle drags on too long or the ending is a bit abrupt. My story moves through the beginning, middle and end in a logical order. It takes the reader on a walk but on a sidewalk, not a high wire. My organization is rough but workable. My story may get off topic once or twice. My story is aimless or disorganized. It lacks direction. I didn’t write enough to say one way or the other.
Paragraphs I indent the beginnings of all paragraphs and have one topic per paragraph. I wrote more than 5 paragraphs. I indent the beginnings of all paragraphs, have one topic/paragraph, and I wrote 5 paragraphs. Some of my paragraphs are too long or not indented. I wrote at least 5 paragraphs. I have several problems with paragraphs and/or I wrote less than 5 paragraphs. I use incorrect paragraph format and/or I wrote less than 5 paragraphs. I didn’t write enough to judge.
The action My story gives details about one exciting, funny, sad or unusual event and reveals why it was important to me. I tell about one specific event in detail but it isn’t clear why it was important to me. My story has one main event but also includes less important events that don’t help readers understand what’s important to me. I focus on more than one event, none of which have enough detail to give the story a clear focus. My story has no focus and is probably confusing to a reader. I didn’t write enough to judge.
The scene I paint a mental picture for my readers, vividly setting the scene by describing important sights, sounds, smells, and/or tastes. I describe the central scene(s) in detail, but not vividly. I describe the scene at some point but some scenes are not described well. I use only 1 or 2 descriptive words, only describe relatively unimportant scenes, or give irrelevant details. I do not describe the setting of the journey. I didn’t write enough to judge.
The cast of characters I create complex characters by showing them in action, describing how they look & act, by using dialogue and letting the reader “overhear” their inner thoughts. I create characters by describing who they are, what they look like, gestures, expressions, and using relevant dialogue. I tell who is in the story and their names and ages but do not show how characters behave and feel. I use little or only irrelevant dialogue. I only vaguely refer to characters (e.g., I talk about “my brother” but never say his name, how he acts, etc.). I use no dialogue. I leave significant characters out (e.g., my father, who took us on the trip I write about), and do not use dialogue. I didn’t write enough to judge.
The point My paper reveals a profound insight gained from this trip. The lesson learned draws on a theme found throughout the essay. I reveal insights gained from the trip, but they may be just tacked on at the end. I describe relevant feelings or ideas, but I don’t have a central insight or lesson learned. I describe a few feelings or ideas but they aren’t well connected to the story. I don’t share my feelings, insights or lesson learned. My essay seems to have no point. I didn’t write enough to judge.
Conventions I use first person form, and correct sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and spelling. My mechanics are good. Errors may be from taking risks, trying to say things in new or unusual ways. I generally use the correct sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and spelling. I make frequent errors which are distracting but do not interfere with meaning. Numerous problems with grammar, spelling, etc. make my story hard to read I better get busy writing!

Download autobiographical essay rubric in grid format

More Classic Resources about Rubrics
from Earlier Versions of the MiddleWeb Site

Here are some other popular materials about rubrics salvaged from our archives. These rubrics resources are not connected to the work of Heidi Andrade. Most were contributed by teachers.

Juli Kendall’s Inference Rubric & the story behind it

Independent Writing Rubric (adapted by Juli Kendall, 2002)

Student Friendly Writing Rubric (Maryvale Elementary)

A Rubric to Evaluate Literary Conversation (adapted by Juli Kendall and Outey Khuon)


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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