Rubrics Part 6: Developing Rubric Criteria

Recall from Rubrics Part 1: Parts and Pieces, that the rows of a rubric contain the concepts on which students are assessed. Including relevant criteria will ensure that your rubric is meaningful to students and well-aligned to your curriculum. A mix of curriculum items and additional requirements often produces the best results.

Curriculum Items

Curriculum items are the most common source of rubric criteria. Various curriculum documents use different terms for levels on the knowledge hierarchy.  For example, Ontario uses the terms Strand, Overall Objective, Specific Objective, Learning Goal, and Success Criteria to describe progressively more refined levels of knowledge.

Curriculum items chosen as rubric criteria may come from different levels of the course’s knowledge hierarchy. In particular, it is permissible to use both overall and specific objectives as rubric criteria.  The image below shows a list of specific objectives from the Ontario curriculum document for BBB4M: International Business.  The bulleted points represent specific objectives that will make excellent rubric criteria.

International Interdependence  By the end of this course, students will:  — identify the types of international busi-  nesses (e.g., import/export, global sourcing,  joint ventures, strategic alliances, wholly  owned subsidiaries);  — describe ways in which mternational busi-  ness activity develops interdependence  among nations;  — describe the effects of barriers and obstacles  to international business activity (e.g., tariff  and non-tariff barriers, restrictions on for-  eign investment, fluctuations in currency);  — explain how and why Canada's major  international business relationships have  evolved over time.

The level of the knowledge hierarchy from which rubric criteria are drawn depends on the scope of an assignment.  Small formative assignments need focused criteria that will be used in grading specific knowledge and skills.  In these cases, overly broad criteria are too general and of little use.

Similarly, large summative assignments need broad criteria if the rubric is to address several objectives at once.  Using overly specific criteria on rubrics for large summative assignments produces rubrics that are too long and needlessly detailed.

A large unit assessment may assess one overall objective.  In this case, the criteria of this rubric will be specific objectives supporting that overall objective.

However, a smaller, mid-unit assignment may be assessing only one specific expectation.  In this case, the rubric criteria will be learning goals supporting that specific objective.

Note that any one assignment may assess a variety of specific expectations from different overall objectives and even different curriculum strands.

Finally, a summative project may assess overall competency in a discipline.  In this case, overall objectives would be the criteria.

In this way, rubrics are scalable depending on the scope of the assignment.  In this system, overall objectives, specific objectives, and learning goals are all suitable for criteria.  Instructional designers will use their best judgment and select the appropriate level of expectation.

Additional Requirements as Rubric Criteria

Using curriculum items as rubric criteria ensures that a rubric is aligned to the curriculum. However, this does not guarantee that a rubric is comprehensive or that it encourages worthwhile, holistic student product.  Consequently, curriculum designers and teachers often choose to implement a shadow curriculum of criteria which are critical to quality student work.

I recommend that these additional criteria types be referred to as assignment requirements and teacher requirements. Use assignment requirements and teacher requirements as rubric criteria to complement curriculum requirements as needed. The rubric below contains three criteria each of which is derived from a curriculum item.  In this case, they are all specific objectives from the curriculum document for ICS4U: Computer Studies.  In this case, additional requirements were not needed because I was able to use the curriculum expectation Works Independently as a catch-all curriculum item for my teacher requirements.


If you have questions or comments about this post or rubrics in general, leave a comment below , email me at, or catch me on twitter @TonyStecca.

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