4 Types of Accurate Rubric Descriptors for Improving Assessment Practice

Here's a breakdown of the different kinds of rubric descriptors.

If you're working on improving your rubrics you know the trick is in trying to keep them simple while still providing accurate feedback. Rubric descriptors, which are the actual meat and potatoes of rubrics, need to be constantly tweaked to be easily understood. Ideally this should be done by both by the evaluator and the one being evaluated. Above all, rubric descriptors should share the following characteristics:

  • Specific—They always target a specific action.
  • Observable—A skill should be a performance skill or an action taking place. A good and thorough task analysis should be performed to determine what skills you’ll need to observe.
  • Measurable—What degree of proficiency is acceptable? A percentage? A set number of times to deem consistent? In the end, we want our rubric descriptors to determine the consistency and predictability of a behaviour.

4 Types of Useful and Accurate Rubric Descriptors

In our constant search for great formative assessment, these 4 types of rubric descriptors should guide students and their evaluators to provide meaningful class content. To that end, let’s imagine a "fictional driving class" for this particular example. Here is a list of 4 types of descriptors you might find useful.

1. Action Words

Action words determine proficiency and are often some degree of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

  • Remembers safety rules
  • Remembers and understands safety rules
  • Remembers, understands, and applies safety rules

2. Qualitative Descriptions

Keep the language consistent throughout the range of performance, but use describing words to connote level.

  • Haphazardly  navigates corners
  • Somewhat precisely navigates corners
  • Precisely and confidently navigates corners

3. Quantitative Descriptions

Specific numbers or quantitative assessment might garner more succinct information for you.

  • Completes road trip with many accidents
  • Completes road trip with few accidents
  • Completes road trip  with no accidents

4. Gauging Independence

Using these kinds of rubric descriptors can help determine if your student is ready to move to the next level.

  • Needs constant supervision when driving
  • Supervision of driving entails a few corrections
  • Drives successfully unsupervised

Of course, rubric descriptors can contain any number of the above types, but it’s always good to make the rubric easy to score without sacrificing quality of feedback. In all of these cases, it’s worthwhile to provide examples of your own rubric descriptors for your students. This is so there are is clear set of expectations established.

Rubrics don't need to be a chore; in fact, they can be the highlight of your lesson planning if you have the most ideal approach. If you want to go even more in-depth in your assessment practice and rubric development, you'll find everything you need and more in our best-selling book Mindful Assessment.