A developmental rubric is a way to record evidence of learning.
Here is why they are awesome:
You might use a developmental rubric at any stage in the teaching and learning process:
- as a pre-assessment to see what students already know
- which you could use to improve how you teach those students
- During teaching to see how effective your teaching is
- assessing students gives you information on at least 3 things: the learner, the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction, the assessment task itself
- After learning to see what students have learnt
- could be interpreted formatively to improve teaching in the future (e.g. if you thought you taught something but students didn’t learn it, it could make you question how you taught it)
- could be interpreted summatively to report to parents or other stakeholders
Developmental rubrics are also useful even outside normal classroom practice. Rubric writing is a form of curriculum writing. Our curriculum writers might have written what we have to teach, but they have not done a very good job at writing how those things look as students get better at them.
We need to unlearn things about rubrics before we can start writing rubrics developmentally.
Not everything you see in a grid format is what we call a ‘developmental rubric’. Most rubrics are not very well written – which you can find out quickly if you do a simple google image search on “school assessment rubric”.
What makes a rubric developmental?
A rubric is developmental if it adheres to certain rules or guidelines. It needs to describe learner performance of a skill in a way that shows higher and higher levels of sophistication in that skill. Patrick Griffin, and his team at the Assessment and Evaluation Research Centre at the University of Melbourne developed these guidelines. Griffin, retired now, is famous for combining the work of three theorists to arrive at his system, Glaser, Rasch and Vygotsky. You can read about it here.
Researchers at the ARC created a website to publicise their work.
They define a ‘rubric’ as a rule for coding an observation of performance.
So a rubric = an indicator + set of quality criteria.
That is Melbourne University lingo. Normals out here in teacherland just say:
Rubric = set of skills + set of quality criteria for each.
Note that “indicator” is just an overly fancy term for what we just call a skill.
To start off writing your rubric you are going to need a blank document like this:
Or you can just do it in a table on word or excel.
Next you need to get the skills that you want to assess.
You only want the skills, not the achievement standards or knowledge required. Developmental rubrics assess use of knowledge but not really how much knowledge a student has. You can infer how much knowledge they have based on what they can do with that knowledge. For example, a student will need way more knowledge to be able to ‘evaluate’ than they do to just ‘list’ or ‘describe’.
Now you should pick 4-5 of those skills to include on your rubric. Yes, students perform way more than just 4-5 skills on any one assessment task, but there’s not much point giving them more feedback than they can cope with. The older the students, the more skills you could give them feedback on.
So for example, Grade 2-3 students you might only have three skills on the rubric, whereas Year 12s might be able to cope with six skills. University level rubrics that I mark with often have more than 10.
We suggest limiting the number of skills assessed for a few reasons:
- Too hard to mark (we do need to take this into consideration)
- Too much feedback for students to act upon
- Not an effective use of teacher time to be giving students more feedback than they can act on.
Any set of skills you pick is a sample of the total number of skills they are showing. Pick the ones that your teaching team want to give students feedback on. I highly recommend assessing fewer things but assessing them more often, especially between years. Better to only assess e.g. 8 different skills per year, but to assess them twice every year for multiple years, rather than assess 20 different skills, but never assessing the same thing
Two more ingredients I’d recommend before you start writing are either some verbs from learning taxonomies and some student work samples. If the teachers writing it are experienced enough with what you’re writing a rubric about though you might be fine without student work samples.
Note that these are just to help you describe student performance. Don’t get too caught up in applying them blindly – the goal here is to describe what students are doing.
From here you write quality criteria. I recommend 3-5 levels. The ARC would say 4 is a good number.
- too many levels is harder to mark
- harder to make the marking consistent between different teachers
- it is unlikely in a typical class there will be more than about 4 levels in any one skill.
I suggest writing the lowest criteria first – something everyone in the class can do – then the highest criteria – something a stretch for your best students. Then write 2 middle criteria that describe typical performances of your students.
The ARC developed 10 rules for writing quality criteria:
A great explanation for why these rules are good is here.
I have been using the ARC rubric writing rules for quite a few years and have expanded upon the original ten rules. I think they make them more practical and classroom-friendly.
Note that I call this video ‘advice’ not rules. There will be times in classroom situations when you have a good educational reason for breaking the ‘rules’. Just make sure you’ve got a justifiable reason for doing so.
Here is a one page summary of that advice:
I think rubrics are best written with 1-2 people and then sent to the wider group for feedback.
You will massively improve the quality of your rubric from its first use to its second use. There is nothing like marking a whole class’ worth of work using a rubric to really test it out.
There is no such thing as a perfect rubric and you will probably tweak your rubrics a little bit every year.
One good anecdotal sign they’re working is that more and more students start attaining the highest criteria (because your teaching improves. This means you might need to write an even higher rubric.
You can get some AI feedback on your rubric by submitting it here:
Alternatively if we have a professional relationship, e.g. you’ve been to one of my PDs or I’m supporting your school, you should definitely send it to me for a look!