Rubrics Part 2: Aligning Rubrics to a Percentage-Based Grading Scheme

Teachers have to cope with a mountain of marking.  Incorporating rubrics into the marking workflow can be challenging.  The levels of traditional rubrics are often overly-broad, poorly aligned to percentage-based grading systems, and vague in the 100% to 80% range.  Aligning rubric levels with existing percentage-based grading schemes is a great way to improve the integration of rubrics and make them a useful tool for teachers and students.

Traditionally, rubrics display four levels across the top and students are graded using these levels: four, three, two, and one.  A fifth level is sometimes added to describe results below 50%.  In practice, teachers find these levels of success overly broad and often subdivide these levels using plus and minus designations.  For example, a project that slightly exceeds the success descriptors for a level 3 could receive a level 3+ instead of a level three.  Subdivision of levels using + and – is not a solution; it is a workaround.

In practice, most teachers are more comfortable evaluating student work using a percentage-based grading system, assigning a grade like 56% or 89%, for example.  Percentage-based grading systems are easy to understand, produce very specific grades, and are obligatory for the majority of districts and post-secondary institutions.  Traditional rubrics, however, either ignore this percentage system or adopt a hybrid model where levels correspond to percent ranges:

Level Percent Range
4 100% – 80%
3 80% – 70%
2 70% – 60%
1 60% – 50%
0 50% – 0%

This system, however, is still imperfect because it doesn’t accurately describe success at higher levels of achievement.  In this hybrid system, teachers are often frustrated grading student work that they believed to be in the 100% – 80%.  The level IV designation simply doesn’t provide enough resolution to accurately describe above-average student work.  This range is larger than other ranges in the leveling scheme and defining a student mark becomes difficult.

To solve this problem the 100% – 80% range should be subdivided into two levels, creating a new top-level. This new top-level, level V, describes work in the 100% – 90% range and, as with traditional percentage-based grading, should be reserved for exceptional student work.  This system produces greater accuracy for teachers evaluating student work and aligns the level-based evaluation of a rubric with the percentage-based grade scheme.

Level Percent Range
5 100% – 90%
4 89% – 80%
3 79% – 70%
2 69% – 60%
1 59% – 50%
0 49% – 0%

Virtual High School successfully uses a fifth level for rubrics.  Teachers in the grade 12 Introduction to Computer Science course use five level rubrics to mark every assignment.  Teachers use them consistently as part of their normal marking workflow in large part because the rubrics produce a percentage-based grade that both students and teachers can understand and because of the specificity of the grades produced.

Let’s look at how Virtual High School and Hekademia implement this fifth level.  The rubric below is for a writing assignment in our grade 12 Introduction to Computer Science course.

In this assignment, students must investigate an emerging computer technology and its impact on society. On the left-most side of the rubric is the fifth level.  At the bottom of the rubric is the overall score row showing the percentage ranges that correspond to each level.  The success descriptors for level V describe student work in the 100% – 90% range.

This approach to rubrics is powerful because it does not ignore or compete with the popular practice of grading with percentages. Instead, the rubric becomes a tool to help teachers arrive at a percentage-based grade while providing success descriptors that are beneficial for students.  The original intention of the rubric is respected: the grading process becomes transparent and consistent and the student can use the rubric before, during, and after the project. In subsequent posts I will discuss other elements of how the rubric above was created including:

  • Aligning rubrics with other grading schemes including competency-based systems;
  • evaluating student work that is below 50%;
  • using point schemes in the BrightSpace (Desire2Learn) learning platform;
  • choosing criteria;
  • writing success descriptors.

If you have any questions or comments about this post or rubrics in general, leave a message in the comments below, find me on twitter @TonyStecca, or email me at

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