Before creating a rubric, one must first understand the purpose of the given assessment because the rubric must be designed to meet that purpose. The six most common purposes of rubrics are listed below. They need not be mutually exclusive in all cases.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment occurs during the learning process. It can provide information about a student’s strengths and weaknesses. It can also be used to assess progress on a project. This information can be used to direct student’s learning in the most beneficial manner. Formative assessments do not have to include a grade, but can be used entirely as a learning guide. The assessment can also be carried out by the instructor or by the student, Examples – In the following example, an instructor is assessing student activity in a laboratory course. In addition to a summative assessment at the end, a formative assessment has been designed to make sure that students are on the right track from the beginning, or the entire lab could become an exercise in frustration for the student. The importance is that the rubric is used while the lab exercise is underway, so that the student can use the feedback to help complete the rest of the assignment well. This rubric could be scored or simply used as a guide for the student. Please note that this example and the others below are somewhat simple, and much more detailed ones could be created. We will also discuss the creation of exemplary examples for each cell later.

Criteria4 points3 points2 points1 point
Completed Pre-lab (Content)Experimental plan is completeThe plan is lacking a few detailsThe plan is lacking several detailsThe plan is lacking significant detail
TimelinessOn scheduleOff scheduleOff schedule and pre-lab late
Pre-lab questionsAll correctAt least 80% correctAt least 60% correctAt least 50% correct
BehaviorStudent has observed safety rules, worked well with others, and remained on taskWorked off task oftenAt least one safety rule violated and worked off task oftenSafety rules violated more than once, ordered other students around, consistently off task.
Materials UseCorrect materials used and identified.Incorrect materials used in some instancesWaste and incorrect materials useage
Data CollectionData collected at all times, accurately, and legibly in lab book.Some data missingSome data is inaccurate and/or at least half of data is missingMore than half of data is missing and/or more than half of data is inaccurate or illegible

One of the most important assignments to keep tabs on in many courses is the progess of group work. If the group lost functionality early in the process, the entire assignemnt can be jeopardized. A formative assessment can help to determine whether the groups are on track and working towards the common goal. While this example looks at the group as a whole, individual students could also be assessed. To show some variety, this assessment does not include a score. If something is determined as unsatisfactory, then instructor intervention may be required.

CohesivenessAll members are working well together towards a common goalSeveral members are in opposition, and goals are not at a consensus in a timely manner
PlanGroup has a plan to complete the projectGroup is still working on a plan
BehaviorEveryone is cordial and working well togetherThere is significant discord among group members
ProgressProgress is being made at or beyond expected levelStudents are well behind other groups and expected level
GoalThe goals of the group are in agreement with the assignmentThe group is working towards a goal that is contrary to the assignment

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is conducted after a program of study has been implemented and completed. It is generally used to provide information about a student’s current state of knowledge or to determine a student’s progress towards an agreed upon set of standards. Summative assessments can also be used to evaluate effectiveness of instruction or a program or to direct a student’s future learning. That is, based upon the results of one assessment, directions can be given for the next phase or stage of learning or instruction. Summative assessments can build the scaffold upon which students are guided, especially when given to the students prior to being graded. In such a way, they help the students understand the standards expected of them. Also, following the use of a summative assessment, the rubric can be used to provide customized, personalized feedback to the students. As with formative assessments, summative assessments can be carried out by anyone depending on the needs, and they do not have to be scored. Example – One of the most difficult aspects of an online course is to fairly and effectively assess participation in discussion. Many methods for this assessment exist. Some of them include rubrics. There are also many types and variations among these rubrics. The following is just one example of a discussion participation rubric that can be used at the end of a course to assign a grade to participation within the course as a whole.

CriteriaAdvancedProficientNot Yet ThereNot There at
Development of IdeasWell-developed ideas; introduces new ideas, and stimulates discussion (5-6 pts.Developing ideas; sometimes stimulates discussion (3-4 pts.)Poorly developed ideas, which do not add to the discussion (1 pt.)Does not enter the discussion (0)
Evidence of Critical ThinkingClear evidence of critical thinking-application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Postings are characterized by clarity of argument, depth of insight into theoretical issues, originality of treatment, and relevance. Sometimes include unusual insights. Arguments are well supported. (5-6 pts)Beginning of critical thinking; postings tend to address peripheral issues. Generally accurate, but could be improved with more analysis and creative thought. Tendency to recite facts rather than address issues. (3-4 pts.)Poorly developed critical thinking (1 pt)Does not enter the discussion (0)
ClarityPosts are well articulated and understandable (4 pts)Posts are understandable, but some thought is required (2-3 pts)Posts are difficult to clarify (1 pt)Posts are unintelligible or not present (0)
Responses to Other Students and InstructorInteracts at least 2 times with other students and/or instructor. (4 pts)Interacts at least once with other student or instructor. (2 pts)Does not enter discussion (0)
TimelinessIndividual messages and at least two responses posted before deadline (4 pts)Individual message posted before deadline, but at least one response is late. (2 pts)Posting is made after deadline or both responses late. (1 pt)Everything is late or not completed. (0)


In addition to assessing student performance, rubrics can be used to evaluate instructional design and instructional effectiveness. Evaluative rubrics are often used at the end of a course to view both the course and instructor quality. They typically use a mixed method involving both Likert scaled questions and open-ended short answer questions. Example – One way to use an evaluative rubric is to look at the quality of an experience. They are often used to evaluate instructors after a course. They can also be used to evaluate the course itself. The following example is just one of the many sections used in the evaluations that the Illinois Online Network uses to evaluate Making the Virtual Classroom a Reality courses. Ranking range from Examplary to Not Present in this holistic style rubric.

Structure / Framework of the Course

Home page has appropriate links and announcements. It is inviting and motivating to the students.
Course menu (or other method of accessing tools and content) contains links to appropriate course tools and content and is well organized.
Provision is made to solicit and present biographies of the participants of some other form of ice-breaking activity.
Course materials are well organized and easily accessed. It is obvious to the students where to go to find a specific item.

Educative Purpose

Educative rubrics are not intended for grading. Instead, they provide guidelines by which students can learn and study. Such rubrics can be in the form of an evaluation of a self-assessment. Like an advanced organizer, such rubrics can be used to contruct the scaffold on which students will construct their knowledge. They can also allow a presentation of guidelines and expectations. All rubrics can be educative in one form or another. Rubrics can be used to provide customized feedback to students following grading for example, even though the intent of the rubric is more for summative or formative assessment. Example – The following educative rubric is designed to give the students the expectations on an exam. An instructor can always give the students a summative rubric that will be used on an assignment or an advanced organizer to perform the same task given proper instruction. The educative rubric shown next, though, is more of a guideline on how the student can prepare for the exam. It has been simplified for presentation here, but you should be able to get the idea. There are many other ways to create educative rubrics, as well as all rubrics for that matter. Notice in the following rubric that their current status or study tips are presented after the “-“.

Literature Exam Preparation Rubric

AreaSelf-Ranking HighSelf-Ranking AverageSelf-Ranking Low
CharactersKnow all of the characters – you’re readyKnow most of the characters – see the character sheet. Find characters you are missing, and describe them.Difficulty remembering the characters. – complete the entire character worksheet.
PlotKnow the plot of all of the books, including any twists and main themes – you’re readyKnow most of the plots, twists, or themes – write out the themes of each book. What was the book trying to accomplish? Consider unexpected things that happened in the books.Difficulty remembering the plots – Did you read the books? If so, skim over them to refresh your knowledge of the plot. Otherwise, pray.
StyleUnderstand the style of literature currently being studied you’re ready.Sort of understand – Think about what the stories had in common, whether it is writing style, period written, what was written about, etc.Do not understand – refer to our notes on style. Read them twice.
BooksAll books read – you’re readyMost of the books are read – with time, read the others to find out what you are missing. Otherwise, you will have to concentrate on what you have read to get as good a score as possible.None of the books read. – You are probably about to drop this course.


Rubrics can be used to provide motivation for learners. When rubrics are given out before an assignment is begun (NOTE: There are cases where you do not want to release a rubric, such as when it can give away answers), students know their expectations and can try to meet them. One argument is that some students will reduce their work in an effort to get the B instead of the A. The counter to this argument is that many students without motivation to begin with may not have even received a B, had there not been a rubric provided. It is an instructor and class dependent decision. Educative rubrics can also be motivational when the student realizes what they do not know and then seeks to learn that information. Motivational rubrics are not so much a class unto themselves as they are a modificaiton of other rubrics for a new purpose. In motivational rubrics, you want to supply students with an explanation of how they can do well on an assignment r the importance of meeting the objective. Example – In the following example, the first formative rubric example above has been modified to create a motivational rubric for the students. Grading has been removed, along with sub-par performance measures. They have been replaced with new language and objectives that relate to student real-world wants and needs.

Completed Pre-Lab (Content)Experimental plan is completeHaving a completed experimental plan means that you understand what you are about to do and why. Your time in lab will be shortened and you will not be frustrated if you know what is going on.
TimelinessCompleted on time.No one wants to be stuck in lab for hours. Be prepared, and you will get things done on time.
Pre-lab QuestionsAll correct.You should really understand what you are doing and why. You will learn more from the lab and have more time to explore and have fun.
BehaviorStudent has observed safety rules, worked will with others, and remained on task.Do not make this a bad experience for anyone else, unless you want me to make it a bad experience for you.
Materials UseCorrect materials used and identified.If you use the incorrect materials, unexpected and harmful consequences may follow.
Data CollectionData Collected at all time, accurately, and legibly in lab book.You cannot expect to get the answers correct and the grade you might deserve if you do not collect your data carefully in your book so that both you and I can read it.
ReasoningUnderstand why you are doing this lab.In this lab, we will be extracting DNA for study. Anyone planning to go on and study anything involving DNA should find this lab especially interesting and helpful. Even if this is not the case, you will learn many things of practical importance, such as how DNA evidence is collected and analyzed.


All rubrics, when given to the students, are a form of communication between instructor and students, instructor and family, instructor and administration, etc. They tell how the assignment will be graded or what the expectations of that assignment are. They can tell the students what is expected of them on a variety of activities, even attendance. They are also a way to communicate with students and other interested parties why a specific grade was received on a graded assignment. The one item that can set the communicative rubric apart is when it provides a rationale for final grade as shown in the following example. Example – In this example, a rubric has been modified to give the student a rationale for their grade.

Completed Pre-Lab (Content)Experimental plan was complete (5 pts)You received full credit on this item. I was pleased with how detailed your plan was.
TimelinessCompleted on time (2 pts)As usual, everything was handed in on time.
Pre-Lab Questions90% correct (9 pts)You misinterpreted item 10. You are not expected to bring into account variability in GATC content for this question. Think about it some more.
Behavior2 ptsNo violations were noticed.
Materials UseCorrect materials used (2 pts)
Data CollectionData collected at all time, accurately, and legibly in book. (5 pts)While you could improve your handwriting, you received full points here.
ResultsAll calculations were completed correctly (10 pts.)I could follow all of your calculations, and you had the final analysis correct on all points.
ConclusionsMostly correct (9 pts)Your final conclusion on DNA identification was correct, but your arguments concerning additional evidence was somewhat flawed in that you did not have evidence for your assignment of hair samples that went beyond sight.