Rubrics: A Very Simple Primer

A rubric is a scale.  Instead of a numeric scale, it is primarily qualitative.  Rubrics show a  range from “mastery” or ideal, all the way to non-ideal.  Each level contains descriptors that are divided into criteria.

Clear descriptors promote our ability to score it reliably and give feedback to students, parents, administrators, and others.  Only occasionally do you need additional training to understand how to score a rubric. If descriptors seem confusing or irrelevant, it is a “bad” rubric.

Most of the time, rubrics simply clarify and justify the judgments we as professionals are already making. Rubrics empower teachers and honor their professional judgment.


Holistic Rubrics

With a holistic rubric, criteria are listed together to show a big picture for each level.  Teachers know what a “beginner” or “intermediate” student can do, but when we say “Your child is doing fine” to a parent, referencing a rubric shows intentionality and supports our judgments.

If you are making any big decision or long-term commitment, you are likely already formulating a holistic “rubric” in your head to think big picture.

3 Perfect

  • Tall, dark, handsome
  • Charming
2 Sure, Why Not

  • average level of attractiveness
  • cute or friendly
1 No Thank You

  • ugly
  • obnoxious personality

A holistic rubric supports big, summative decisions about placement and programming.

The holistic rubrics I created are aligned to and located on the final pages of my Scope and Sequence using WIDA for ESL, but if you are a foreign language teacher, Martina Bex has a rubric that aligns to ACTFL.
Analytic Rubrics

On most days, we are not making big decisions; we observe.  Analytic rubrics, as their name suggests, are more detailed and can include more measurable observations on a single performance or a single day.

If you decided someone was definitely not a perfect 3, you would ignore column 3. On the fence and not ready to make a big decision, you would need to consider some nuances a little closer in categories 2 and 1.

3 Perfect 2 Sure, Why Not 1 No Thank You
Tall, dark, handsome Average level of attractiveness Ugly _________
Very charming Cute Obnoxious personality _________

Analytic rubrics help us notice (assess) a little closer while we are still formatively assessing, or making decisions about how to present language to students.  Some days or with some ability levels, I won’t be able to notice certain items, so I may have to delete rows, columns, or write NA for portions of a rubric before I can make any fair evaluations or grades.  Rubrics can be modified as needed, but should be scored objectively.

Whatever children are already doing can be measured with a rubric: Listen and DrawTPR, or Story Retells are authentic and easy, painless ways to collect data.  Ben Slavic’s Interpersonal Communication Rubric is technically holistic so captures fewer details, but used daily can collect enough data to be very reliable.

For content-based instruction for advanced learners,  consider creating the rubric with students. Also,  Rubistar has a search feature to find and adapt rubrics to reflect how children were authentically responding to text.


Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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