student essay rubric

What is a rubric?

What is a rubric? It’s a rule for converting unstructured responses on an assessment into structured data that we can use psychometrically.

Why do we need rubrics?

Measurement is a quantitative endeavor.  In psychometrics, we are trying to measure things like knowledge, achievement, aptitude, or skills.  So we need a way to convert qualitative data into quantitative data.  We can still keep the qualitative data on hand for certain uses, but typically need the quantitative data for the primary use.  For example, writing essays in school will need to be converted to a score, but the teacher might also want to talk to the student to provide a learning opportunity.

How many rubrics do I need?

In some cases, a single rubric will suffice.  This is typical in mathematics, where the goal is a single correct answer.  In writing, the goal is often more complex.  You might be assessing writing and argumentative ability at the same time you are assessing language skills.  For example, you might have rubrics for spelling, grammar, paragraph structure, and argument structure – all on the same essay.


Spelling rubric for an essay

Points Description
0 Essay contains 5 or more spelling mistakes
1 Essay contains 1 to 4 spelling mistakes
2 Essay does not contain any spelling mistakes

Argument rubric for an essay

“Your school is considering the elimination of organized sports.  Write an essay to provide to the School Board that provides 3 reasons to keep sports, with a supporting explanation for each.”

Points Description
0 Student does not include any reasons with explanation (includes providing 3 reasons but no explanations)
1 Student provides 1 reason with a clear explanation
2 Student provides 2 reasons with clear explanations
3 Student provides 3 reasons with clear explanations

Answer rubric for math

Points Description
0 Student provides no response or a response that does not indicate understanding of the problem.
1 Student provides a response that indicates understanding of the problem, but does not arrive at correct answer OR provides the correct answer but no supporting work.
2 Student provides a response with the correct answer and supporting work that explains the process.

How do I score tests with rubrics?

Well, the traditional approach is to just take the integers supplied by the rubric and add them to the number-correct score. This is consistent with classical test theory, and therefore fits with conventional statistics such as coefficient alpha for reliability and Pearson correlation for discrimination. However, the modern paradigm of assessment is item response theory, which analyzes the rubric data much more deeply and applies advanced mathematical modeling like the generalized partial credit model (Muraki, 1992; resources on that here and here).

How can I efficiently implement rubrics?

It is much easier to implement rubrics if your online assessment platform supports them in an online marking module, especially if the platform already has integrated psychometrics like the generalized partial credit model.  Check out this blog post to learn more.

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Nathan Thompson, PhD

Chief Product Officer at ASC
I am a psychometrician, software developer, author, and researcher, currently serving as Chief Product Officer for Assessment Systems Corporation (ASC). My mission is to elevate the profession of psychometrics by using software to automate the menial stuff like job analysis and Angoff studies, so we can focus on more innovative work. My core goal is to improve assessment throughout the world. I was originally trained as a psychometrician, doing an undergrad at Luther College in Math/Psych/Latin and then a PhD in Psychometrics at the University of Minnesota. I then worked multiple roles in the testing industry, including item writer, test development manager, essay test marker, consulting psychometrician, software developer, project manager, and business leader. Research and innovation are incredibly important to me. In addition to my own research, I am cofounder and Membership Director at the International Association for Computerized Adaptive Testing, You can often find me at other important conferences like ATP, ICE, CLEAR, and NCME. I've published many papers and presentations, and my favorite remains
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