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Rating Students' Performances on Assessment Methods

A system is needed to analyze the complexities and to create clear criteria for student performances or products. For some performances, faculty might observe the student in the process of doing something, like discussing an issue or playing an instrument. For other performances, faculty would observe the product that is the result of the student's work, like a research paper or a working model. Grades are a common, traditional form of evaluating student work. As assessment tools, though, grades are not very helpful. They often reflect overall performance, rather than the display of particular skills and knowledge, and they do not give faculty a good sense of the overall strengths and weaknesses of a group of students; two students can get the same grade for quite different reasons. Instead of grades, rating scales, rubrics, and scoring guides are common tools used to establish expectations and to evaluate, interpret, or grade students' work against agreed-upon criteria and standards.

Checklists: Checklists are a simple list of assessment criteria or components that must be present in student work with a space for documenting if the student has accomplished them or not (e.g., Present/Absent, Complete/Incomplete). They are the least complex form of scoring system. There is no judgment on the quality of the work. Checklists are not often used in higher education for program-level assessment.

Rating Scales: Rating scales are checklists of criteria used to evaluate the quality of elements in a task and include a numeric scoring system with associated terms (e.g., 1 = inadequate, 2 = marginal, 3 = fair, 4 = good, 5 = excellent). The main drawback is that the meaning of the terms can be vague. Without specific descriptors, the raters must make a judgment based on their perception of the meanings of the terms. For the same presentation, one rater might judge a student “excellent” while another rater might feel the same student was "good."

Holistic Scoring Guides: Holistic scoring guides are used when a single, overall score is more important than sub-scores for specific categories. Holistic scales are often used for performances, such as dance or music. Although holistic scales can be easier to create and easier to score, they do not provide the amount of feedback that is possible with a rubric that includes multiple dimensions.

Rubrics: A rubric delineates specific sets of criteria that clearly define for both student and faculty what a range of acceptable and unacceptable performance looks like on a particular task (e.g., assessment, assignment, performance). Criteria are descriptors of ability at each level of performance and assign values to each level. Proficiency levels describe a continuum from an excellent to an unacceptable product. Rubrics are flexible in that they can be used to score any product or performance measure. Generally speaking, rubrics are the best choice for rating students’ products or performances.

Basic Steps for Creating a Rubric

  1. Identify the student-learning outcome.

  2. Define your assessment method (e.g., paper, experiment, performance). This is “what” you are asking your students to do.

  3. Identify the standard or criteria by which you will rate students’ work.

    Determine the various abilities that students should display to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcome(s). These abilities are your criteria or standards. Each criterion should be expressed in a simple phrase or brief statement, which is measureable through the examination of students’ products or performances.

  4. Identify possible levels of achievement.

    Given the expectations of what students should be able to demonstrate, write descriptions of the possible levels of achievement (e.g., Unacceptable, Developing, Adequate, Target). Note: sometimes in the development of a rubric a program will stop here and simply have the raters identify one category.  That is a good interim step in the development of a robust rubric.

  5. Create descriptions for the criteria along each level of achievement.

    Write a simple phrase or brief statement that describes the standard or criteria for high quality work (e.g., Target) and each successive level of lower quality work.