Working on improving your rubrics? Trying to keep them simple, yet provide accurate feedback? Rubric descriptors, which are the actual “meat and potatoes” of rubrics, need to be constantly tweaked to be easily understood. This should ideally be done by both by the evaluator and the one being evaluated. The general rule of thumb as that descriptors should be specific, observable and measurable.

  • Rubric Descriptors as SpecificThey always target a specific action.
  • Rubric descriptors as Observable—A skill should be a performance skill, an action taking place. A good and thorough task analysis should be performed to determine what skills you’ll need to observe.
  • Rubric descriptors as Measurable—What degree of proficiency is acceptable? A percentage? A set number of times to deem consistent? In the end, we want our rubric descriptors to determine the consistency and predictability of a behaviour.

Rubric Descriptors Practice

In our constant search for great formative assessment, these 4 types of rubric descriptors should guide students and their evaluators to provide meaningful class content.

To that end, let’s imagine a “fictional driving class.” Here is a list of 4 types of descriptors you might find useful.

1. Action Words

Action words determine proficiency. These are often some degree of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

  • Remembers safety rules
  • Remembers and understands safety rules
  • Remembers, understands, and applies safety rules

2. Qualitative Descriptions

Keep the language consistent throughout the range of performance, but use describing words to connote level.

  • Haphazardly  navigates corners
  • Somewhat precisely navigates corners
  • Precisely and confidently navigates corners

3. Quantitative Descriptions

Specific numbers or quantitative assessment might garner more succinct information for you.

  • Completes road trip with many accidents
  • Completes road trip with few accidents
  • Completes road trip  with no accidents

4. Gauging Independence

Using these kinds of rubric descriptors can help determine if your student is ready to move to the next level.

  • Needs constant supervision when driving
  • Supervision of driving entails a few corrections
  • Drives successfully unsupervised

Of course, descriptors can contain any number of the above types, but it’s always good to make the rubric easy to score without sacrificing quality of feedback. In all of these cases, it’s worthwhile to provide examples of your own rubric descriptors for your students. This is so there are is clear set of expectations established.


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