Using rubrics for program assessment

To determine how well student learning outcomes are being achieved, many programs choose to include the evaluation of student work products, like papers, portfolios or performances, in their assessment plan. A rubric can be a very useful tool for assessing student learning as it is reflected in these products.

Using a rubric for program assessment is different than using a rubric for grading student work. For the purpose of assessment, scores for each dimension (e.g., learning outcome) are aggregated across all students. The objective is to understand the average skill level of students in the program on the particular dimension. 

If you are considering using student work as part of your program’s assessment plan, the following steps can serve as a guide for how to go about using rubrics to accomplish this.

1.  Determine where in the curriculum the outcome is addressed and at what level you want to assess it.

  • curriculum or outcome map would be very helpful in accomplishing this task.
  • To determine if improvement in student learning has occurred across the program, consider looking for courses where the outcome is introduced and for courses later in the program that emphasize the outcome.
  • To determine if students have achieved the outcome by the time they are about to complete the program, consider looking at senior level courses.

2.  Look within the courses you have selected to identify student work (e.g., products or performances) that demonstrates the outcome.

  • If you want to test improvement over the course of the program, look for similar products in lower and upper division courses.
  • If you want to determine if students have achieved the outcome by the end of the program, look for products produced towards the end of the program.

3.  Develop the rubric.

4.  Consider using a sample, or representative portion, of the student work that is available for the selected work product instead of including the work of every student who submits the assignment.

  • A representative sample will give you a good understanding of student learning in your program, and require less time and effort to evaluate.

5.  Apply the rubric.

  • Ideally more than one rater would independently apply the rubric.
  • Remember to consider each dimension of the rubric separately, being careful not to let a student's performance on one rubric element bias your impression of the whole work.

6. Once you have applied the rubric, aggregate rubric scores across students for each outcome or skill on the rubric using frequencies or mean scores.

  • If you had two or more individuals independently apply the rubric, you will first need to average their scores for each student on each dimension of the rubric.

7.  Present data in a way that is user-friendly for your program’s faculty and then discuss what the results mean for your program.

  • A user-friendly presentation of rubric data can mean putting it into a table, a graph, or a paragraph—whatever makes the most sense for you and your discipline.
  • It is very helpful to have a criterion or standard of success in mind when you start the discussion of results. For example, you might say that the average score must be above a 3 on a 4-point scale, or you might say that 75% of your students must fall in the ‘superior’ range of your rubric.

8.  Once the faculty as a group has decided what the results mean, you can look for ways to improve any areas of concern.

Click here for an example of a program following these steps.

Next: Example Rubrics                                                                                                        Return to Rubrics home page