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Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

Understanding Using and Creating Rubrics.


How student participation in rubric creation can aide in improved writing

Christine Cook
Sonoma State University

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

Introduction
In the English Language learning classroom, whether it be an ESL or EFL setting,
the emphasis on communication through writing can be an added stress and obstacle for
students. Often times, a students ability to express themselves eectively and clearly,
through writing is used to determine their knowledge and understanding of a topic. According to Turgut and Kayaoglu, (2015) It is fair to state that the quality of students work and
their intellectual capabilities are judged largely by their writing skills (p10). Teachers may
use a rubric in attempt to eliminate confusion and guide the assessment process. Rubrics,
defined by Moskal (2002), are descriptive scoring schemes that are developed by teachers or
other evaluators to guide the analysis of products or process of students eorts(p22). Additionally, teachers may use rubrics to consistently describe expectations and criteria for a
given assignment.
Though the intention of rubrics is often to clarify and help guide student writing, the
execution often results in more confusion or an inconsistent assessment which is missing
the given criteria. The confusion can come from over explaining and subjective wording. As
Turgut and Kayaoglu (2015) claim, In terms of the organization category in the rubric,-Fluent expression, ideas clearly supported, succinct well-organized, logical sequencing, cohesive
- may not make much sense to students (p2). Students may understand that a teacher wants
clearly supported ideas yet accomplishing and assessing it may look dierently depending on
teacher, grade level, and content.
I became interested in the topic of rubrics when I began teaching English to Language Learners recently from China. The students I work with are attending a competitive

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

college prep high school which expects them to perform at the same level as their American
peers. One of my responsibilities as the ESL teacher is assisting students in assignments
from general education classes. In guiding students through English, History, and Religion
assignments, I have discovered that most teachers hand out rubrics with big projects. These
rubrics, according to the teachers, are expected to be used as a guideline for students.
Though the rubrics are intended to give students support and clarity, my attempts to decipher them and my observation of confused students has led to my interest in investigating
rubrics and trying to improve their use. This investigation has lead to some questions.
If the goal is to provide a roadmap to assessment why are rubrics so flawed? How can
we improve them? Does student creation of rubrics provide more ownership and clarity in
assessment? In this paper I will provide researched ways of using and creating rubrics. I will
provide my own personal research with five Chinese English Language Learners in high
school. In working with the students I will find whether student writing products improve
through the study and creation of rubrics.
Methods
The participates of this research paper were six 9th and 10th grade International
Students at a private Catholic school. These students are attending their first or second
school year at an American high school. All of them have spent their previous education
years in China. The students range in their English levels from intermediate-beginner to intermediate-advanced, but do participate in the same classes and expectations as their American peers. The setting of this study is occurring in an English Language and College
Preparatory class held for International Students that meets 4-5 times a week for an hour.

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

Three of the participating students are 9th graders. This is their first time in American high school. From now on, they will individually be referred to as M.L, B.L and I.C. M.L
is a 14 year old female who was educated at an International school in the Jiangsu province.
It is an urban area with diverse cities. M.Ls school taught all subjects in English, with Chinese teachers. M.L is designated as a Beginner-Immediate however, my observations and
discussions with her suggest a high intermediate in speaking and writing. She speaks Mandarin, English and some Japanese. B.L is also from a urban setting. He is a 15 year old male
who attended school in Shanghai. His conversation skills are higher than his writing. He received English instruction as part of his general education since he six. He has been assessed
as low-intermediate which may be due to his struggles in English written conventions and
academic vocabulary.
I.C is from a rural part of China, though he was educated in an urban city of the
Shaanxi province. He is a 14 year old male. He is assessed as a intermediate beginner due to
his communication and understanding skills. He began his American education with little
vocabulary and knowledge of English writing functions and conventions. However, he is able
to maintain a 3.5 GPA because of his strong work ethic and drive to learn. He carries a notebook with him where he writes any new vocabulary word to study. He has progressed the
fastest out of his International peers.
The three 10th graders that I have included in this research will be referred to as A.J,
M.Y and J.H. All three are 15 year old males. This is their second year in American high
school. They have been assessed as advanced-intermediate. At the beginning of Fall 2014
they had dierent levels. M.Y was beginning-intermediate, and A.J and J.H were intermediate. J.H and A.J are from urban cities and M.Y is from a rural country town with few people

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

who speak English. A.J speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English. The other two speak
Mandarin and English.
To prepare for the research portion, I used the six step criteria given by Moskal
( 2002) to model my instruction and assessment practices. Using this criteria can guide
teachers through completing assessment, planning, and instruction.
1.

The criteria set forth within a scoring rubric should be clearly aligned
with the requirement of the task and the stated goals and objectives.

2. The criteria set forth in scoring rubric should be expressed in terms of


observable behaviors or product characteristics.
3.

Scoring rubrics should be written in specific and clear language that students understand.

4. The number of points that are used in the scoring rubric should make
sense.
5.

The separation between score levels should be clear.

6. The statement of the criteria should be fair and free from bias (p4-5)
The preliminary data was collected after students filled out a survey answering questions about their experiences, thoughts and understandings of rubrics. The students answered 25 questions to determine how well they understand rubrics, whether or not they
feel comfortable with using them, and how likely they feel their grades are connected to
rubrics. The researchers method of analyzing the surveys was to read their responses, and
organize them into charts. The answers given by students helped inform and guide the research process.
Next, the researcher collected 5 rubrics and directions used by teachers in the same
school setting. These five rubrics are examples of ones given to the students for previous

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

projects. These rubrics come from the students own teachers. Using the survey responses
and example rubrics, the researcher, designed a three part plan for students to analyze, explore and learn how to design their own rubrics.
The first step was to introduce the students to three dierent rubrics. These rubrics
varied in complexity and detail. In a group of three, the students read the rubrics, asked
questions, and circled confusing parts. To the whole group, students presented their idea of
the best rubric and why. The purpose of this activity was to give the students the chance to
notice and become aware of certain rubric qualities that are helpful or confusing. In the surveys, students could determine that rubrics were confusing to read, but did not or were not
able to give explanations why. Through this activity, students could narrow down the challenges of understanding rubrics.
After presenting the preferred rubric, students were told to repair or improve the
rubric they found too confusing. Students used the website rubistar, a rubric generating
website, to improve the format. They were told that their objective was clarity and cohesion
with the original concepts. Students were able to restructure the rubric and choose similar
topics with less complex language.
Lastly, the students were presented with directions to an assignment with varying
levels of sample work. Students used the sample work which were four dierent presentations created by older peers. Looking through and analyzing the sample work, the students
created a rubric defining each quality that would be expected.

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

Literature Review
Purpose and Goals of Rubrics
Rubrics can be defined as a document that determines and clarifies assignment goals
while promoting transparency in assessment. Moskal (2000) defines rubrics as descriptive
scoring schemes that are developed by teachers or other evaluators to guide the analysis of
the products of process of students eorts (p.22)
Rubrics are helpful in listing assessment criteria and expectations for students. Their
purpose is to aide in defining the goals and quality of the end product. They can inform students of their progress and improve student performance. (Pandadero, 2013) Rubrics may or
may not help with learning specifically, but researchers in the field found that using them
along with meta-cognitive skills, like self-regulation, and self-or peer assessment, has led to
success.( Panadero, 2013) For students to become reflective practitioners, they must reflect
on how, why, and where they met learning outcomes. (Crotty, 2001) Rubrics can help with
this type of self assessment or reflection even if students only use them to asses whether or
not they met the given criteria.
Originally, the purpose of rubrics has been mostly for summative assessment. Teachers would use them to organize how they would assess student work prior to completion.
This use can be helpful in determining the objectives the teacher will assess and providing
students with a type of explanation for the grade. However, recently, the use of rubrics has
evolved to aide in formative assessment. Goals for formative use of rubrics are increasing
transparency, reducing anxiety, aiding the feedback process, improving student self-ecacy,
or supporting student self-regulation (Panadero, 2013, p. 138) Using rubrics for formative
assessment is helpful for clarification purposes to all students, especially those who are less

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

successful in school. When teachers clarify assignments and promote transparency, (Andrade
& Du, 2005) students understand expectations, making goals more accessible and achievable. Lower achieving students have a format in which they can analyze their own work and
the assessment score. This would, ideally, lead to more understanding to the assessment of
their performance and further improvement in future assignments.
Assessment Practices
After the era of No Child Left Behind and the beginning of Common Core, education had begun the shift away from focusing on factual knowledge and memorizing information to developing critical thinking skills and problem solving, ( Kan, 2014). Leaving behind
assessments based on discrete skills makes assessing student progress more complicated and
less transparent as the traditional assessment that involves bubbling in A, B, C, or D on a
form. With more complex ideas being introduced and changes in teaching practices, assessment must change as well. Performance assessments provide opportunities for students to
evaluate, synthesize and analyze, using more critical thinking skills. According to Kan (2014),
Despite their many advantages over traditional assessment methods, performance assessment have not been considered as the main tool of student assessment. A common criticism
of performance assessments is the subjective nature of scoring procedures. (p. 3)
Since many criticize the subjectivity of using performance assessments, the making
of well functioned and transparent rubrics could solve that problem. With the need for effective and clear objectives in a rubric Kan and Bulut (2014) completed an empirical study of
rubric use by teachers, new and experienced. They planned to determine whether the use of
rubrics and the teachers experience had an impact on their scoring behaviors In their research, of Kan and Bulut (2014) found that, the lack of a scoring guide caused the teachers

Running Head: Understanding, Using and Creating Rubrics

to establish their own scoring criteria to assess students performances (p.17). This led to
inconsistency in the final scores. They also found that complexity in a rubric may influence
the way teachers interact with the rubric(p. 18). Because of their findings, questions still
remain about how to improve consistency in feedback so that students understand how to
improve their writing.
Practices
Researchers separate rubrics into two categories: student centered and teacher centered. Teacher centered rubrics can be used to provide clear assessment while helping teachers in what has been coined by researcher, John Biggs (1996) as constructive alignment,
which refers to aligning the following three: instruction, learning and assessment. Using the
concept of constructive alignment in rubric creation, teachers simultaneously design instruction while defining objectives for the student product, and creating a map of how to
assess it. (Biggs, 1996) According to Biggs (1996), A competent teacher should be able to say
in what ways a student should perform in order to specifically exemplify the deepest understanding of the content taught and less satisfactory levels (p. 363).

However helpful

rubrics are to teachers, they can also be used to guide students in improving performance.
Student centered rubrics with transparency and clarifications lead to a reduction of
anxiety in students, improving their confidence and guiding further performance. (Andrade,
Du 2005) Students understand what is expected of their work which leads to more self reflection and connection to their work. ( Panadero, 2011), which in turn leads to the students
meeting the writing goals set by teachers. Teachers can ask themselves whether the rubric
they are designing is solely for assessment or additionally for student self reflecting. A student-centered rubric would be designed to be student friendly, allowing students to internal-

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ize the expectations and objectives (Andrade, 1999). A student-centered rubric would be focused on providing the students with clearly stated objectives. These objectives would be
easy to read and attainable for the students.
In a study done by Schamber and Mahoney (2006), student performance improved
after the use of student reflection and student friendly rubrics. Schamber and Mahoney,
further state that research indicates students learn most eectively not only when high expectations are placed on them but also when these expectations are communicated clearly
and instruction is designed to help students meet those expectations (p. 108). This concept
is in opposition to the conventional notions of academic rigor which leave students in a
state of guessing about teacher expectations or feeling a sort of disconnect to their work and
their actual grade. Instead of this separation, students can improve performance when they
can take ownership for how their work is assessed and how they could improve.
Even though rubrics can be used to teach rather than just assess, there isnt enough
research to support that students learn from them the long haul (Andrade, Du, Wang, 2008).
When the researchers, Andrade, Du, and Wang conducted a research evaluation determining whether or not student performance improved after receiving rubrics, the students
clearly improved. However the researchers could not determine whether the students
learned or improved their writing as opposed to improved their writing to follow the given
criteria. Simply handing out and explaining a rubric can increaser students knowledge of
the criteria for writing but that translating that knowledge into actual writing is more demanding ( 2005 p. 4)

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Developing Rubrics
Just including a rubric in the assessment process isn't enough to improve student
writing abilities. Barbara Moskal (2002) gives criteria for teachers on how to create a rubric
eectively and with transparency. According to her, before determining the assessment
goals, teachers must ask themselves questions about what they hope to learn about their
students knowledge or skills. Most importantly, assessment and instruction goals must be
aligned. These goals should be determined before instruction to provide constructive alignment and clear objectives. Below, Moskal (2002)provides steps for developing quality scoring
rubrics.
Researchers like Andrade (2005) are making the argument for taking a step further
than just providing a rubric. Andrade makes the argument for more student involvement by
allowing students to be part of designing rubrics. In their research, they handed out model
papers to 3rd and 4th graders. The students used the model papers and directions to create
criteria in the form of a rubric. They analyzed student scores after the process and found an
overall improvement in student writing. They say, having students use model papers to generate criteria for a writing assignment and using a rubric to self-assess first drafts is positively related to the quality of their writing (p. 8). Though they concluded that creating the
rubrics and using them to self-reselect on writing, they could not say whether or not the activity had a long-term impact on improving student writing.
Furthermore, Turgut (2015) states that this new use of rubrics allows students to be a
part of the assessment process and allows for clear and detailed feedback on student work.
The researcher states, that with the involvement of students in the assessment process,
rubrics have changed from being simply an assessment tool to being a potential instruction-

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al tool (p.50). Therefore I decided to examine student performance in writing before and
after modeled rubric creation.
Data Presentation and Analysis
Since 20 English learners were surveyed, the researcher will include their multiple
choice answers. As for the short answer questions, the researcher will only include the data
and analysis for the group of six previously described. If students chose no for question two,
the researcher showed them a picture of a rubric to remind them before finishing the rest of
the survey
Question 2: Do you know what a rubric is?
16

16

12

12

0
Yes

No

Table 1

Table one shows that 15/20 students did not know what a rubric was by name. After
choosing no, the researcher showed an image of a rubric to students and 100% remembered
them. The researcher can conclude that all 20 students were familiar with rubrics, but 15 of
them did not remember what they were by name. Since the students are English learners it
is possible they did not remember the name. Another possibility could be that this group of
students has had less exposure to rubrics in their previous Chinese education. More research would be needed to answer this conclusively.

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Question 4: Do you understand the rubrics you have been given?


10

10

0
All the time Sometimes

Rarely

Table 2

0
Never

Table 2 shows that three students felt they understood rubrics all the time, ten students understood them sometimes, and seven students understood them rarely. These answers were not surprising to the researcher after previous observations and explanations in
reading rubrics. The majority of students answered sometimes which indicates they may
understand some parts of rubrics or simple rubrics, but havent understood every rubric or
portion.
Question 5: When a teacher gives you a rubric before, does it help you to complete
your work correctly?
9

Table 3
7

All the time

Sometimes

Rarely

Never

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Table 3 shows that the biggest number of students think reading a rubric beforehand
did not help with correctly completing their assignments. The six students were asked to
explain more in short answers about why they do or do not find them helpful. M.L: I dont
read them. B.L : Its complicated I.C : Too much words. Y.L Its too muchs, and I
dont have the times. J.H: It help me to organize before I writing a projects. I can see the
teacher wants and grades. A.J: Yes, I believe it helps sometimes when the teacher makes it
short and explains the thing he wants. Though the students were divided on their reasons,
multiple short answers indicate that brevity would help with understanding.
Question 7: When your teacher grades you on a rubric, do you know how to improve
your work?
10

10

Maybe

Yes

No

Table 4

Question 7 indicates that students find rubrics more helpful in correcting or improving their work than it does in completing it at first hand. The school policy is to allow students to correct any work with low grades and turn it in again. The students taking the survey often use this opportunity to get assistance and raise their grade. The researcher found
the dierence between the students responses to question seven and five surprising. After,

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the survey, students were asked to explain why the corrected rubric helps them to improve
their work but not when creating it.
Question 26: (Short answer) Why is it easier to correct with a rubric than to use it to
do your assignment?
M.L: I know what little things I can do better(when asked to elaborate)..like when
I write it at first I am trying to just do the thing, but after teacher grades the thing, I can fix
it B.L : I can show it to my teacher and get help. I.C : Doesnt help. Y.L I can show
you the it and we can make better. J.H: There is less for me to do. The Mrs. (English
teacher) can tell me what I forgets A.J: I try to understand what the teacher thinks is good
and it helps me to improve my ability. The researcher works with the students on assignments and is not sure the impact of personally asking these questions would have on the validity of students answers. The researcher is unsure whether the students are giving answers
they think she would like to hear. Later research and repeating the questions on an anonymous survey would be needed to determine the reliability of student answers.
Student -Made Rubrics and Assignment Completion
After reading student surveys, introducing teacher rubrics, and practicing creating
rubrics, the researcher and students created a rubric together, using given directions. The
participating students were given an assignment with the created rubric. After the assignments were completed and graded. The researcher compared the scores of this assignment
to a previous assignment with similar qualities. ( See Appendix 1 for example)

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Scores out of 20
90

Table 5 Pre-survey Assignment Scores


68
45
23
0
M.L

B.L

I.C

Y.L

J.H

A.J

Table 5 represents the scores students received on their pre-survey assignment. This
assignment is a presentation on hyperboles using an unfamiliar presentation tool,
Keynote.The students were scored on a rubric out of 20 points.

Scores out of 20
100

Table 6 Post-survey Assignment Scores

75
50
25
0

M.L

B.L

I.C

Y.L

J.H

A.J

Table 6 represents the scores for the post-survey assignment. The students created a
presentation for Idioms using an unfamiliar presentations tool, Prezi. 5/6 of the students
scores improved from their previous assignment by at least 1 point. One students score re-

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mained the same as in the previous assignment. Since the same person played the role of researcher and teacher, grading the post-survey assignment could be influenced by the researcher. Additionally, the post-survey assignment came after a similar assignment. This
could indicate that students were more familiar and comfortable with the process, resulting
in better quality work and better scores. These variables could impact the analysis of data .
Therefore, more research would be needed.
Findings/Interpretations
My goal for this research was learn more about the usage of rubrics and to find ways
to improve their usage. I wanted to determine that if students were involved in the process
of making a rubric, it would result in improved work and clarity. While reading the literature, I discovered that teachers used rubrics to improve clarity and aide in scoring student
work. I discovered that providing rubrics to students before grading an assignment could
possibly aide in clarity, and reduce student anxiety. However, the literature I studied needed
more research to provide a framework for teachers.
In the course of my own research and data collection, I found teachers could have
the intention of improving clarity, yet may not be successful. Initially, the students generally
felt overwhelmed by rubrics and didnt feel they had the time to use them as a tool. The
rubrics being used by the teachers are not brief and involved complex vocabulary. Grading
with these rubrics would be subjective to the scorer. Additionally, the vocabulary used made
it dicult to summarize the expectations to students. When, students were given opportunities to explore the rubrics and break them into parts within groups, I witnessed positive
responses. The dissection of rubrics made them less daunting for students and they began to
have ownership.

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Furthermore, when students began to produce their own rubrics for their assignments, they improved in quality work. Students became more aware and responsible for the
details expected of them since they were there ones to write them. The students who did
not complete all portions of the assignment made the choice rather than not understanding.
I interviewed B.L, who did not improve scores from pre survey and post survey assignments. When I asked him why he was missing a part of his presentation, he said he forgot to
check and ran out of time. He stated he knew he was supposed to have a cover slide but forgot to add it before it was due. More similar tasks would be needed to see if the students
continue to progress when they are involved in the making of rubrics.
Conclusion
I began this research with the goal of finding ways to improve the usage of rubrics in
my high school. Often times, teachers have told me, I gave him a rubric, he should know
what to do. Yet, when I reviewed the rubric, I found it as daunting and lacking clarity as
the students. I hoped to have answers for teachers on how to improve their rubrics because
just having one does not solely result in improved student work. The rubric needs to be
clear, brief and as objective as possible. Students need to know how to interpret them and
make the connection between the quality of their work and the scoring process.
Implications
Much more research will be needed to confidently conclude how I can improve the
usage of rubrics. The student scores did improve after participating in creating the rubric,
yet, I was the researcher and teacher which could have led to skewed results. Even if the
quality of student work was improved, it is unknown if the activity will have a long term effect on student work. Additionally, the short answer interviews of students may give dierent

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results if they were interviewed by a third party. Further, I would question whether the improvement in student work would be repeated in the variety of subject areas they study. The
many variables make it dicult to conclusively say that students would improve work if they
were given rubrics beforehand. However, it may have more impact to study and research
how teachers create and use rubrics.
Limitations
My research had several limitations. The study was limited by a short time and participants to study. I only had time to provide two activities to compare data. The activities
were only spaced apart by a few weeks which may have impacted results. I was limited by a
small number of activities with similar content. Longer time and a variety of activities for
dierent content areas may be needed to have conclusive results. I will be continuing the
research and exploration of rubrics throughout the school year to look for long term answers. Additionally, I was limited by my participant selection. I would like to more evenly
distribute my participant group by age and gender. I studied five males 15 and younger and
one female. My research would be improved by using a bigger variety of participants. This
would include older students I work with and more females. Additionally, half of the students chosen were academically struggling earlier in the year. My research would improve by
varying the participants by academic successes.
Next Steps
It would benefit my research if I use a greater depth of information on the types of
rubrics my students and coworkers use. Another improvement would be to give students
more opportunities to create rubrics in future projects. This would be to determine whether
the learning was long term or just for the particular assignment. It may result in conclusive

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answers if a variety of activities using rubrics were researched. My methodology could have
included surveying those who are involved in the grading process. For example my participants teachers and principals. Another possible improvement would be to study authentic
rubrics from the students teachers to narrow down ways to improve the language and organization. Further study of the rubrics being used in this setting would be needed. I would
like to have a team of teachers analyze rubrics and student material to look for clarity,
brevity and objectivity.

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