One rubric to unite them all

I didn’t ever think I’d become the sort of teacher that gets excited about assessment and reporting. Boring! Yet along the way with colleagues, amazing assessment structures for middle school have revolutionised the way we design our courses, teach our lessons, respond to students, give feedback, and define the grades for reports. But first, the story of how it came to be.

I started out teaching using marking schemes – 1 point for this, 2 points for that, added up to 25 points for the task. This is what I was taught, what was modeled and what was surrounding me in my school. After a couple of years, I knew this wasn’t cutting the mustard for a few reasons – it didn’t give enough descriptive feedback for students to know how to improve, a new marking scheme had to be created for every task (often leading to “bonus marks” or “presentation marks” to make the total add up to a nice number). It didn’t encourage students to give greater depth in their answers, as it limited them to the number of points being given. The other issue is that our middle school marking is reported A-E, and marking schemes give a percentage which isn’t clear what grade it relates to. I found that marking schemes didn’t lend itself to rich, open and authentic tasks – but closed tasks of limited challenge (like finding facts and sticking them on a poster). Low quality, busy work tasks abound in this space.

Eg. Marking Scheme for a poster on famous scientists

Title 1 mark

Introduction 2 marks

Picture included 1 mark

About the person 3 marks

References 2 marks

Presentation 1 mark

Total 10 marks

e.g. Marking Scheme for a practical report

Aim 1 mark

Hypothesis 1 mark

Materials 2 marks

Method 3 marks

Results – table 3 marks

– graph 6 marks

Discussion 10 marks

Conclusion 2 marks

Safe working skills 2 marks

TOTAL 30 marks

So we moved to rubrics. Rubrics give descriptions of what is is seen at each grade band, A-E. They can be time consuming to write for each task, but give more description of what’s expected to be seen for each grade. They allow for more open ended tasks, leading to extension for gifted students. We’ve played with single point rubrics, which are meant to save time in making rubrics for each task, but found them to be more time consuming writing comments either side, and not as helpful for students to guide them. We still found that task-specific rubrics were assessing non-intended curriculum items like presentation, creativity, spelling, use of colour, inclusion of pictures and design. While nice, these items are not related to the student’s thinking or understanding. They are not part of the Australian Curriculum achievement standards for our subject, so really had to go.

Enter the One Rubric.

One assessment rubric for the entire year, aligned against achievement standards. One rubric for all tasks in a subject, and possible across multiple year levels. One rubric for use in every topic, to ensure quality task design and consistent assessment across a cohort of students. One rubric that allows for moderation of tasks, but still allows individual teachers to have choice and creativity in the contexts and tasks they set for students. One rubric that encourages students to extend themselves, and that allows tracking of student progress over a year that can be displayed to parents and students (see image at top).

From the Australian Curriculum (AC) achievement standards or band descriptors, each description of achievement can be converted into items in a rubric. From this rubric, just the items being assessed in each task e.g. an assignment, a practical report, a design, a research task, can be highlighted. For starting points for wording, looking to senior curriculum (e.g. SACE) assessment rubrics can be helpful, as can department assessment and reporting guidelines. This is not a new idea – it happens in every SACE subject with their Performance Standards. However, within AC middle schools, as there is no assessment rubric documented in the AC, how it is assessed varies widely.

Benefits to using a One Rubric:

  • consistency in assessment between classes/teachers.
  • ease of designing assessment tasks that fit with the intended curriculum – you create the task sheet, copy the rubric in, highlight the criteria you want to assess and it’s done.
  • flexibility and creativity in designing tasks within a task type e.g. inquiry.
  • ability to track student progress in all assessment work (formative/summative; for/of learning) over a year and report on progress. Parents find this useful to view, as they can also track both achievement and progress over the year.
  • provides data to help inform instruction and formative assessment e.g. if students are not progressing or achieving in ‘justified conclusions’ criteria, the introduction of scaffolds (like CER) can help support the development, and the impact of this intervention can be tracked over time.
  • students can peer-mark, self-mark, and co-design tasks with the underlying support of a One Rubric.
  • provide a structure to the documentation so teachers and schools can be confident that they are assessing the intended curriculum, and can map assessment to the whole curriculum across a year.

Considerations when using a One Rubric:

  • Using a One Rubric puts a strong emphasis on the intended curriculum – in this case, the AC. There are schools and teachers that I’ve seen who either don’t teach (just) the AC, or they teach the content but do not assess using the AC. You’ll need to work out what works in your school context.
  • This One Rubric is subject based. When considering inter-disciplinary teaching (or PBL styles), it isn’t necessarily going to work for all tasks. Strong discipline knowledge is essential for interdisciplinary work, so a One Rubric can be used in developing subject specific skills, processes and knowledge. This can then be applied in interdisciplinary work. Generally, the benefits of interdisciplinary tasks (and what they assess) is the critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, application of subject knowledge to new contexts, collaboration and communication. These General Capabilities tend to form the backbone of interdisciplinary assessment rubrics (like the performance standards in Integrated Studies).