Rubrics Part 1: Parts and Pieces

Rubrics are the nexus of curriculum objectives, assessment, and instruction.  Any discrepancies in the planning of these 3 major fields will become apparent in the rubric when it is time to evaluate the student. Consequently, creating a meaningful rubric is a challenging task for even the most skilled educator.

Hekademia and Virtual High School put a great deal of research and development into general rubric best practices and into specific strategies for implementing rubrics in Desire2Learn’s Brightspace integrated learning platform (ILP). I’m very excited to begin a multi-part series discussing these best practices and I’m keen to hear some of your thoughts on the matter.

Some of the topics will include:

  • terminology and components of rubrics
  • when to use a rubric and when not to
  • developing criteria for rubric
  • writing success descriptions
  • developing points schemes for rubrics
  • rubrics as a learning tool
  • how to mark with a rubric
  • creating rubrics in Desire2Learn’s Brightspace ILP

Let’s start with the basics and look at the components of a rubric.

Parts of a Rubric

Rubrics are just a chart that relates assignment expectations to student success. They are most commonly created with expectations on the y-axis and the student’s level of achievement on the x-axis.   In this sense, the components of a rubric can be called anything you like: rows, columns, headings etc. However, because rubrics are educational tools, educational naming conventions apply and it’s important to be aware of them. Let’s look at the image below.


The columns of a rubric are called levels. This terminology is used widely in education, and there is very little disagreement here. The levels of the rubric describe varying descriptions of student success. There are a number of ways to set up the levels in the rubric.  This task will be discussed in a future blog post.

The rows of a rubric are most commonly referred to as criteria, but may also be referred to as dimensions. Personally, I prefer the term criteria because each criteria describes an element that is critical to success on the assignment. We will discuss how to select criteria a little later.

Descriptors are the fields or boxes in the rubric where levels and criteria intersect.  These boxes are also called level descriptors or success descriptors. People also use the terms description and descriptors interchangeably. A descriptor is a description of student success on criteria at a specific level.

If we dig a little deeper there is one more level of organization on rubrics.  Inside a descriptor there are several criteria defining success at that level.  Criteria inside a descriptor are referred to as success criteria.  This term is less widely used in education.  I, however, feel that it’s important to identify these criteria inside a descriptor because, depending on the type of assessment and where the assessment is in a learning progression, rubric criteria (rows) can be demoted to success criteria in a descriptor.  This concept can be confusing at first.  We’ll talk more about this later.

At the bottom of the rubric is the overall score row.  In this case, the row is a product of the Brightspace ILP, but many educators often include an overall score row to help them summarize the rubric.

There’s a lot more to talk about in this little rubric, but we will get to it in time. I hope you enjoyed this introduction to rubrics. Have I missed any rubric terms? Is there a difference of opinion on these terms?

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