Rubrics Part 3: When to Use a Rubric

Detroit Lions’ franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, had a troubling campaign in 2013.  Despite promising rookie and sophomore seasons, Stafford struggled with footwork and passing mechanics, and at times, had trouble reading defenses and adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage.

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford
Gillian Van Stratt |

In response, the Lions have hired veteran QB coach, Jim Bob Cooter, to mentor Stafford.  Cooter, with his distinguished reputation as a coach and football troubleshooter, has spent the last several years in New Orleans working with Saints’ all-star QB Drew Brees.

In educational terms, quarterbacking is a rich performance task assessing a variety of competencies.  The quarterback position is arguably the most challenging of all performance tasks in football and requires a staggering mix of physical, mental and social skills.  This raises the question: what is the assessment mechanism used in high-stakes environments like professional football and what are the educational parallels?

We’ll never know what mechanism Jim Bob Cooter uses to assess Matt Stafford’s play.  Some clubs use systemic grading schemes similar to rubrics.  Others use intuitive systems that rely more on personal experience and intangibles.  In education, however, rubrics are an ideal tool for assessing performance tasks, during which a student must demonstrate competency on a variety of skills.

Rubrics are less effective, however, for tasks that assess only knowledge and comprehension, or only a single skill.  Traditional question-and-answer problem sets, for example, do not work well with rubrics.  In some cases the questions are not sufficiently challenging enough to warrant a rubric.  In other cases, the questions are so challenging that each question becomes a performance task and its own rubric.

In the rush to use rubrics on all assessments, organizations often apply them too liberally and for situations to which they are not suited.  For example, problem sets are best assessed with traditional points systems.  There is a way to use rubrics for problem sets, but I’ll discuss that in a future post.

For now, if you are having trouble making a rubric for an assignment, consider whether or not a rubric is appropriate at all.  Would Jim Bob Cooter use a rubric to assess Matt Stafford’s response to one question?  No. Would he use a rubric to assess Matt Stafford’s readiness for the next game?  Maybe.


2 thoughts on “Rubrics Part 3: When to Use a Rubric”

  1. This is a great post! Loved the article Tony! I played QB and completely agree that a rubric cannot encapsulate what is necessary to assess a QBs performance. There were times when my coach, going into a game, stressed that he only wanted safe plays and to avoid turnovers at all costs. While there were games where I threw for 300 plus yards, but made major mental errors, there were also games when I threw for under a 100 yards, but executed the coaches plan, and kept turnovers to a minimum. Many would look at my numbers in the 100 yard games and question that I had a bad game, but if you were to ask my coach back then, it was more of what he wanted from me– staying within a team concept and not taking unnessary risks. So, I agree, you have have the right point, there are some performance tasks that are difficult to assess with a rubric. I teach a Football course, and we assess very specific aspects of the position with rubrics from using the proper footwork, balance, follow through, and ball position. At the same time, we assess their ability to understand and comprehend playbook, and finally, we assess their application of the plays in response to defensive fronts. In this regard, we can assess if our QB is ready to play, or if more work needs to be put in to master the skill areas. Thanks for the post!! I found it very interesting.

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