Evaluating Assessments



A rubric is an assessment tool that outlines and defines the criteria by which a student’s submission will be evaluated and describes the difference between exemplary and weaker work (Lombardi, 2008).

Why should you use a rubric? A rubric not only shows students what they need to do to be successful in an assessment, but rubrics also present a means of evaluation that reduces subjective grading by providing specific and detailed criteria. By presenting a detailed and consistent breakdown of what is expected at various levels of performance, educators are able to examine each assessment through the same lens and mark consistently.

Successful implementation of a rubric relies on it being:

  • specific and detailed, but offers some flexibility for creative assessments
  • issued to students at the same time as the assessment/assignment instructions
  • reviewed and revised (as needed) with the students before it is used, and then following use – you will often find gaps the first few times you use a rubric.

There are 2 types of rubrics, and the type selected will be dependent on the assessment you are developing it for:

Holistic vs. Analytic Rubrics

Holistic: Provides an overall snapshot of progress or achievement.  They share feedback on where a student is currently situated relative to an outcome without getting into granular detail, and provide them with a benchmark to work toward in improving their performance.  These rubrics are ideal for formative feedback on initial submissions, draft assignments, and assessments where the overall performance is being evaluated.

Analytic: Provides specific numerical (grade) allocation on predetermined ‘parts’ of an assessment.  These are generally grids that specify levels of achievement, aligned with categories and descriptions of requirements.

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Most LMS have an integrated rubric tool that supports development of both holistic and analytic rubrics that can be linked directly to the assignment and the gradebook.  If the LMS you are working with does not, you can use online tools such as ForAllRubrics or Rubistar, or software such as Word or Excel (convert to a PDF prior to distribution to students).

The anatomy of a rubric

There are 4 key components to any rubric:

  1. Criteria
  2. Criteria standard
  3. Performance levels
  4. Performance descriptor

Click on the “+” icons next to each number for a description of each component.

Download a printable/accessible version of this sample rubric [PDF].

Developing a rubric

In the interactive element below, use the menu bar (☰) on the left or the arrows on the right to view the content on all 7 pages.


Check Your Understanding


person marking off items on a checklist
Source: “Check list hand pen business” by Tumisu from Pixabay

In some instances, rubrics may not be the ideal evaluation tool. Some assessments require a “did” or “did not”, complete or incomplete approach. In these cases, a checklist can not only be useful in supporting objective evaluation, but can also provide students with the specific assessment elements or tasks you are looking for – very much like a rubric. A checklist is the simplest way to determine the presence or absence of any component of a given assessment.

Verbiage for checklists may include:

  • Complete and incomplete
  • Yes and no
  • Present and absent
  • Acceptable and unacceptable

Checklists are best used in formative assessments to provide students with an overview of how they are progressing towards a goal, but can also be valuable in summative assessments, particularly when a set of skills is being demonstrated or inclusions (in a report, for example) are being considered. As with rubrics, checklists should be provided to, and discussed with, the students at the same time as the assessment instructions, and should be reviewed and revised each time it is used.

Rating Scales

Rating scales combine the simplicity of a checklist with the more specific level of achievement of a rubric.  A rating scale indicates how well a student performed on a specific element of an assessment or task, based on expected outcomes, but lacks the granularity of performance descriptors.  As such, rating scales are an excellent tool for self-assessment, diagnostic or formative assessments, and even peer feedback.

This evaluation tool is also set up in a grid, or matrix, similar to a rubric, with both criteria (performance area, skill, component) and performance levels. Performance levels in a rating scale may or may not have associated points, and may be more subjective in nature, such as:

Sample performance levels for rating scales; description below
Credit: Durham College Centre for Teaching and Learning

Performance levels range from favourable to unfavourable, left to right.
Example 1: Strongly agree; Agree; Slightly agree; Slightly disagree; Disagree; Strongly disagree
Example 2: Excellent; Good; Satisfactory; Weak; Poor
Example 3: Exceeds expectations; Meets expectations; Approaching expectations; Below expectations; Absent/incomplete


Whenever possible, presenting students with an example of the assessment allows them to understand what you are expecting and provides inspiration as they embark on the task.

student reading essay on computer
Source: “Woman working at home using her laptop” by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

Exemplars can be:

  • Created by you to show your expectations and what your approach would be, or
  • An artifact (sample) of work submitted by students in the past to demonstrate variety and different levels of performance.

Exemplars inspire performance and creativity, so be sure to let students know when they are free to make creative choices.



Check Your Understanding



Consider an assessment you are planning, or have already administered, and develop a rubric, checklist, or rating scale using either a simple chart format or an online development tool. Share the assessment directions and evaluation tool with a colleague for feedback, checking specifically if the tool appropriately outlines the performance requirements for the assessment and supports student success.


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Rethinking Assessment Strategies for Online Learning Copyright © 2022 by Seneca College; Durham College; Algonquin College; and University of Ottawa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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