Two Rarely Recognized Values of the Rubric

I’m back from my annual canoe trip and ready to get back to work. Here is Don Mesibov’s latest constructivist newsletter.

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The Institute for Learning Centered Education Newsletter
Newsletter Edition: Volume 9, Issue 33

When we first begin to use a rubric, we usually assess the way we’ve always assessed, but use the rubric to put it in a different format. Hence, the highest score on a rubric may be equated to getting every answer correct on the short answer test; the next highest rating is getting nine of ten correct and so on.

Then we gravitate toward putting task requirements in a rubric such as “submitted on time,” “proper format,” etc. etc.

I’d like to suggest two purposes of a rubric that render it valuable as an assessment instrument beyond the way many of us use rubrics:

1. A good rubric can assess student performance.

2. A good rubric can outline expectations for the quality of student work and then provide a vehicle for assessing the quality of the work.

Let’s look at each of these two purposes starting with the value of the rubric for performance assessment. And let’s use the Winter Olympics for an analogy. If we assessed skaters and divers in the Olympics the way most teachers taught in 1980, the skaters would never get on the ice. They would listen to talks about the history of skating, how to make skates, and famous skaters in history. Then they would take a short-answer/essay test and the one who got the highest grade would be awarded the gold medal.

Happily, times have changed. The average classroom is now much more interactive than 30 years ago. This is analogous to letting the skaters get on the ice and perform their routines. However, once they have skated, we are still giving them a paper and pencil test to see how well they know how to skate. While standardized tests are gradually becoming more authentic, they are still mostly paper and pencil tests that move teachers away from rather than toward performance assessment.

A major value of a rubric can be that it enables the teacher to assess student performance while it is happening instead of afterward with a traditional test.

What about the value of the rubric for assessing the quality of student work? This is where a great deal of professional development is needed. The rubric should assess how well students have met the teachers’ learning objectives and this usually can’t be done with a check list. It requires a teacher to think about what the evidence would be of a student who knows, understands and can apply the skill or concept that is the purpose of the lesson.

If students are to learn how to write an opening paragraph for a creative piece that will excite the reader and motivate the reader to continue, then the question the teacher must address in designing the rubric is: “When I read this piece of creative writing what evidence must I see that will convince me the student has written words that will excite and motivate the reader? The answer to this question is what must appear in the highest cell of the rubric.

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Please feel free to forward this message to a friend or colleague. If you know someone who would like to be put on the list, please send a message to Don Mesibov at dmesibov@twcny.rr.com. Requests to be dropped from this list will also be honored. Copyright (c) 2008, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All rights reserved.

The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2009 summer constructivist conference, July 20-24, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education: http://www.learnercentereded.org
or, e-mail a request for information.

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