If you are a fan of rubrics or are required to use them for student assessment, consider including students as co-creators in your rubric creation. Rubrics are helpful to instructors and students. They help instructors save time in grading and providing feedback. They give increased consistency in feedback from student to student and help faculty members clarify their assignment expectations and needed teaching methods (Cornell University, 2022). For students, rubrics clarify expectations and structure of assignments; allow for self-assessment; provide a guide for what students should be getting out of their learning; give them an understanding about the learning process; and help organize feedback for future assignment drafts.  

However, despite these benefits, rubrics can also restrict learning and potentially contribute to inequitable teaching practices. Poorly designed rubrics include those with ineffective scales; generic or generalized criteria; and vague or negative language (Tierney & Simon, 2004). For students who fall in the “developing” area of a rubric, negative and vague language such as “unacceptable, marginal, proficient, distinguished, not yet competent, partly competent, competent and/or sophisticated” can make them feel “wrong” instead of making them understand that they are learning (Dineen & McCartin, 2019). 

The practice of rubrics can increase equity in grading (Feldman, 2019; Ragupathi & Lee, 2020) but also can perpetuate inequities in higher education. The use of rubrics can lend itself to overly standardizing or norming expectations (norming to dominant expectations); a focus on faculty vs. student needs and perspectives (reinforcing higher-education hierarchies); a false security of objectivity in evaluation (falsely assuring nonbiased grading); assumptions of word and concept definitions such as “adequate,” “appropriate,” “academic,” “many,” “clear” and “competent” (ignoring diverse perspectives, first-generation-student understanding and implicit expectations); and narrow options for demonstrating student learning (limiting student strengths, expression and contributions of lived experience).  

Using students as rubric co-creators combines the helpful structure and explicit expectations of a rubric with the responsive and equitable inclusion of student voice and expertise. Specific to rubric co-creation, one study reported that teachers and students who co-created rubrics valued the experience; gained insight into one another’s perspectives and needs; had clarity of assignment expectations; were motivated to complete assignments; and increased their educational agency beyond the specific rubric experience (Kilgore, et al., 2021). In general, student-faculty rubric co-creation provides students with an in-depth view of future assignments and how they will be assessed. It encourages self-assessment using student language and examples. And asking for student input early in the semester (in a rubric co-creation exercise) engages students in an educational partnership, setting the tone for the course’s community of learning. Regarding equity, rubric co-creation shifts the focus of the rubric from faculty summative assessment to student-focused formative assessment. It also welcomes conversations between students and faculty members addressing bias in grading, dominant norms and implicit expectations in higher education and the numerous ways and forms that learning is expressed.

Take a SIP of this 

If you have 30 minutes:  

  • Have a conversation with your students.
    • Explain to your students why you use a rubric and how it assists you with assessment.  
    • Ask students how they use the rubrics you provide and how they help (or do not).  
  • Create a class activity to have students use the rubric to self-assess their assignment.  
    • Have students ask questions of clarification about language or levels of proficiency. 
    • Have students share parts of a rubric that are unclear or negative. 
    • Have students share examples with one another of how they met certain aspects of a rubric.  
      • Have students observe the diverse ways each of them met criteria.  
  • Add a question on your student evaluations regarding usefulness of course rubrics.  
    • Did the assignment rubrics help in your self-assessment, to describe assignment expectations, in clarifying future areas of growth or to understand instructor feedback; or rubrics did not help with my learning.
      • Use this feedback to improve your rubrics.  
  • Have a rubric show-and-tell with another colleague.  
    • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s rubrics as they relate to student understanding and growth.
    • Brainstorm ways of making your rubric more student-centered.

If you have one hour:  

  • Provide students with one of their assigned rubrics. Explain the rubric and have them produce examples from their paper for the various levels of performance. Have them share and discuss why they chose these examples.
  • Ask past students for permission to use their paper for rubric examples. Insert links in your rubric with actual student-paper examples. This will help students define expectations such as “competent,” “sophisticated,” “developing,” etc.  

If you have a semester:  

  • Co-create all rubrics with your students at the beginning of the semester. 

Still thirsty? Take another SIP.


Cornell University Center for Teaching and Learning (2022). Using Rubrics 

Dineen, R. & McCartin, L. (2019). An Unfinished Journey Towards a Democratic Information Literacy Classroom. UNC (University of North Carolina) Libraries Faculty Publications. 

Feldman, J. (2019). “Grading for Equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms.” Sage. 

Kilgour, A., Morton, J., Cloete, L., Dawson, S., & Northcote, M. (2022). Rubric co-construction in medical and allied health education: Students’ and teachers’ perceptions. 

Ragupathi, K., & Lee, A. (2020). Beyond Fairness and Consistency in Grading: The Role of Rubrics in Higher Education. In Diversity and Inclusion in Global Higher Education. Catherine Shea Sanger and Nancy W. Gleason. (Eds.) Palgrave McMillan. 

Tierney, R. & Simon, M. (2004). What’s still wrong with rubrics: Focusing on the consistency of performance criteria across scale levels. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 9(9).