Rubrics are instruments for assessing students’ responses to complex and open-ended tasks. All rubrics have two fundamental features in common. First, in order to assist in identifying the qualities to be assessed, a rubric includes information about which aspects or criteria to look for in student performance. Second, in order to assist in judging the quality of student performance, a rubric includes descriptions of student performance at different levels of quality. The typical form of rubrics is when these two features are combined in a two-dimensional matrix.
Rubrics can be used for both summative and formative purposes and may therefore have different designs. While rubrics for summative purposes may be holistic, task-specific, and have few levels of quality to increase assessment reliability, rubrics for formative purposes may be analytic, apply to several similar tasks, and have several levels of quality in order to facilitate students’ self-regulation with the aid of rubrics.
Research on the reliability of rubrics suggests that intra-rater reliability (i.e. when comparing assessments from the same assessor at different occasions) is often satisfactory, while inter-rater reliability (i.e. when comparing assessments from different assessors) is often not. This means that rubrics are generally not sufficient in themselves to raise the inter-rater reliability to threshold levels, without the use of exemplars and/or training for calibration. Research on the validity of rubrics has so far mainly focused on establishing the quality of the instrument, while less research has investigated how rubrics are actually used by assessors or how outcomes are interpreted.
Students may also benefit from knowing the criteria teachers use to assess their performance, for instance when evaluating their own work or the work of peers. This formative use of rubrics has in a number of studies been shown to be effective in supporting student performance, particularly in higher education. Although research on the impact on student learning and motivation from using rubrics is growing, there is still a lot of work to be done in understanding the mechanisms through which rubrics may influence students’ performance, self-efficacy, and other motivational constructs. A fundamental question to be addressed is whether the design of rubrics, where explicit criteria are combined with descriptions of quality, may act to facilitate processes such as the understanding and use of feedback and/or self-regulated learning strategies, or whether any instructional activity involving focused learning goals and/or criteria are equally effective. There is also a widespread scepticism against sharing rubrics with learners, due to the fear of narrowing the curriculum and hampering students’ creativity, but not much is currently known about how students’ learning approaches are affected by the use of rubrics.