Powerful Rubrics for the 21st Century Learner

How do we make our rubrics less 20th Century and more 21st Century? 
Focus on the evidence of learning and less on the product or the performance. Easily said, difficult to do. In fact, building a powerful 21st Century rubric to assess learning is an art. If made improperly, it could hinder the learner.

Benefits of the Rubric
Rubrics define expectations, which should be introduced to the students (and parents) before learners start working on their projects.

20th Century Rubric Flaws
I will be the first to admit, I didn't know my rubrics were flawed. Here is an example of one of mine that I used for the "book report project" that was not PBL (if this seems out of context, you may want to visit "Projects are Not PBL").

Flaw #1:  Don't record grades as percentages by converting the number correct out of the total number of points. 

I'd take this rubric and would habitually convert
it straight over to a percentage grade. For example, if a student scored 3 out of 4 on all areas on our  Book Report Grading Rubric, I would convert  12 out of 16 points over to a 75%. 

Why is converting the score on the rubric straight over to a traditional percentage grade a flaw?
The flaw is there are 2 failing grades as options (boxes 1 and 2), a barely passing grade (3), then one great grade. So, mathematically speaking, the student is doomed unless he or she gets a perfect score on everything. 

Typically, there is only a 30% acceptable grade range (from 100% to 70%). This does not leave a margin for error. 

How can you fix the conversion flaw?
On a rubric, the acceptable grade range should be greater than 30%, and more like a bell curve with a 50% average. This can be done by setting the "1" as 50%; the "2" closer to 70%; the "3" closer to the "B" range; and the "4" closer to the "A" range. Does it sound familiar? It should, because it is comparable to the equivalents of a 4 point scale like that on a GPA (Arter, 2009).

Having a greater acceptable range, benefits the students rather than penalizes them during the learning process. Students gain feedback from their scores by quickly seeing their strengths and areas for improvement. 

Recommendation: Place this conversion on your rubric as the scoring key.

Flaw #2: The criteria doesn't match the conversion scale of learning. Instead, the criteria must have measurable descriptions aligned with Bloom's Taxonomy

Using Bloom's Taxonomy to Create Criteria
The best rubrics are those who have degrees of understanding and climb up the Bloom’s Taxonomy. One way to stagger the matrix using Bloom’s Taxonomy is to set the “4” section with a higher level on Bloom’s Taxonomy (creating, evaluating, and analyzing); a “3” set closer to the applying level; a “2” is closer to the understanding level; while a “1” is more at a remembering level. 

The key to defining those degrees of criteria is describing clearly in measurable ways the evidence of learning. 

Bottom LineA strong rubric will stagger the degrees of criteria based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and it will represent student learning more accurately with the 4.0 conversion scale

This post was inspired by the quote "Managing a Project requires a 21st-century set of skills…” (Reinventing PBL Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, p 75); the fabulous AJUSD teachers enrolled in our current Prospector University class; and Patrick Ledesma's articles on Choice 2.0


  1. I would probably give this blog 3 or 4 on the Bloom's Taxonomy. (because it applies, and it is very close to creating! Now it needs to prove its viability).

    Rubric interests me very much!

    With a lower grade there is a lot to learn, and ranks from most to least important, or easiest to hardest.

  2. Hi Adelaide,
    We have something in common, we both are interested in rubrics. I would like to learn more from you, and am curious about what you meant by lower grades. Can you explain more?
    Kind regards,

  3. To use an example:

    If you were looking at the "Creativity" section of the rubric, you might see under 2: "This report was below expectations".

    It might give you a chance to interrogate the expectations to fulfill them better and then be able to get the next grade.

    Especially if I wanted to know what creativity I wanted to bring to the report.

    For the "Abandoned Mines Rubric", it was great to be able to see the content being measured and discussed. This is really good for Project-Based Learning.

    It gets you focused on the main idea of the assignment, finding solutions for the mines. The marks are for each level of solution.

    And I love the way the rubric is tied to specific action in the question words: like judge [evaluate].

  4. Thanks Adelaide, I appreciate your coming back to explain more. I liked your point, "It might give you a chance to interrogate the expectations to fulfill them better and then be able to get the next grade." That's one of the qualities about rubrics that I love, it defines what you are setting your goals for and lets you know how your learning will be measured. Thanks for your insight and adding to the discussion.

    Kind regards,

  5. This is a great post about how to use rubrics as a means of evaluation. I think that people get the purpose of grades and assessment confused and this was a great way of looking at how you can use a rubric and still have a fair grade. Just a couple of weeks ago I was giving a 4 question test and I was annoyed because I had to give a "C" to students who only got one question wrong. I ended up doing something very similar to what you showed with the rubric. Thanks for validating my own craziness.

    Rick Wormelli has some great insight on rubrics. I remember for the DI conference a few years ago he talked about the importance of the point scale in a rubric and to never use a 5 point rubric because people will equate it with letter grades and it will lose its power. That has always stuck with me since then when I have used rubrics.

    My biggest concerns as far as rubrics go is teaching the students to understand what they mean and having the time to reflect with each student about their progress. Students what to know what letter grade it is no matter what kind of evaluation you give them. Also, it is hard to find the time to talk to each kid individually about their growth. Do you have any advice about either of these issues?

    -Rachel Mangum

  6. @Rachel,

    You've brought up some huge discussion points about creating goals and reflecting along the way.

    One thing I wonder is, what would happen if students could set their goals for what grade they want ahead of time with some type of graphic organizer to plan out the steps. This could be a directed discussion. Do you think that would possibly help them think through the steps needed?

    Along the way, I wonder what would happen if they took the rubric or their goal sheet, and reflected on where they were at the moment, and set new goals based on that. Do you think that could help them?

    Since I know you are fabulous at bringing small groups over to work with you, while the rest of the class is engaged in their learning; I wonder if one time they could share those goals and reflections with you. Even if it's a quick share--such as share with your partner, and then they share with you. Then you can decide if there is one that you want to dive into more. Do you think that would help?

  7. Shauna suggested using rubistar to help teachers create a rubric.


    Thanks Tracy!

  8. Hi Amber,

    I absolutely appreciate Shauna's suggestion of Rubistar, and I gained much insight from our conversation about rubrics. It's true, I forgot that when I was first introduced to rubrics, I relied on Rubistar and rubrics made by others. It wasn't until the past few years that it became easier for me to create my own from start to finish instead of searching for one already created. I will add this site to my PBL class wiki. Thanks for helping me realize this!

    Kind regards,

  9. I also learned from Tracy's rubric class that putting a zero on a rubric is a big NO-NO! What about a section for honors?

  10. Hi Erica,

    You nailed it, I'm very against zero grades because our job is to help students succeed and not punish them. Mathematically, I don't know that a student can ever recover from a zero grade, which means we hinder them from success.

    For other ideas on grading (or not grading), check out what Mark Barnes has to say.

    You are right, I should add what I've talked about with an "Honors" column (where the 5 would be). I can't site where I first saw this (in the 1990s or early 2000), but I remember the reason for having it was to give them a "challenge" beyond a 4 for those who need the next step.

    Thanks, Erica, for commenting to add to this blog discussion.

    Kind regards,

  11. I love to use http://roobrix.com/ when calculating the score.

  12. Tracy - Thanks for sharing your thinking about rubrics. I agree that our understanding of them evolve the more we use them. I've gotten to a point where I think of two kinds of rubrics - rubrics and then Quality Rubrics. It's been my experience that 90% of what you see on Rubistar are rubrics. Many are lacking attributes of quality and sadly, this something I spend a great deal of time thinking about. For me, a Quality Rubric is first and foremost a tool to support student self-reflection. Then they can be used for evaluation purposes. I've tried to share my thinking about what makes a quality rubric here: http://qualityrubrics.pbworks.com and the different between rubrics, checklists, and scoring guides. Best wishes

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      I'm so glad you left a comment and the link back to your wiki with quality rubrics. I've bookmarked it in Diigo and will point others in your direction.

      I completely agree that student reflection is key. Students should be able to look at the rubric, then set goals, organize a plan with milestones along the way, and reflect on what's working and what can be improved. This goes back to setting up the rubric (and the project), so students gain from their reflections and the feedback. Ultimately, it's up to the teacher to model this in his/her own reflections; to bring the student actively into the learning process; and to set up rubrics/projects with milestones along the way as encouraging feedback.

      Again, thanks for commenting and for pointing me to the valuable resource you've provided.

      Kind regards,


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