Three Ways to Innovate Rubrics to be Student Centered

Have Students Create Rubrics

I just read Diane Moroff’s article on Bakpax Corps titled A Guide To Creating Assessment Rubrics In Collaboration With Your Students. In it, she described her methodology in using rubrics to communicate the learning target to her student. It’s an incredibly timely read because I have been grappling with my current use of rubrics. Actually, I am feeling a little teacher guilt because something about the use of rubrics isn’t jiving with me lately. If admitting I have a problem is the first step, then I guess I’m ready to engage in the process of figuring out why I’m feeling some resistance.

Historically, I’ve cringed as I’ve worked through the process of identifying all the levels of “not proficient.” First, because I was always that kid who wanted to know the highest level and disregarded the rest.  Second, when I hear kids ask, “What is the minimum I need to do?” and then plan around a description of less than "Exceeds Proficient" work, I’m doing all I can to not snatch the rubric back from them.

Engaging Students with Proficiency Scales

That’s why the use of proficiency scales has been such a welcomed alternative. I learned all about them at the ISN conference from Nicole Mashock and Don Smith during their session on Assessing Personalized Learning. Thankfully Marzano’s team of educations consultants has a bank of proficiency scales on their website that I use frequently with my students. While Nicole and Don were highlighting a school program centered on personalized learning, I’m working on a much smaller scale within my classroom. That’s said I have found them to be incredibly empowering for students as they identify what they need to know and be able to do to meet the next learning target.


When I show them to students we talk about reading from the bottom and going up. Start with a 2.0 to find the prerequisite skills and the vocabulary required. Then move up to 3.0 to find what needs to be done to meet the standard. Finally, for a 4.0 the student must meet everything required of a 3.0 and then take it to a higher thinking skill. Frequently this can be the difference between using explicit, as well as, making accurate inferences. Typically, I have the students create a proposal page in their notebook that deconstructs the proficiency scale and outlines that they plan to do to meet the standard identified. I LOVE that they are actively interacting with the information and then are empowered make a plan and work on the standard.

Empower Students to Co-Create Learning Goals

Clearly, there is a connection between the success I am having with proficiency scales and the experience Diane Moroff’s shared on Bakpax Corps in her A Guide To Creating Assessment Rubrics In Collaboration With Your Students specifically, student interaction with the document. In her book Learner-Centered Innovation, Kate Martin an aha moment that changed her coaching conversations from just posting objectives to “helping students understand the desired learning goals, where they are in relationship to the learning goals, and how students could reach their goals.” In a similar way, I believe that students need more than to receive a rubric. By unpacking and/or creating the scoring document they are able to co-create their learning goals. Marin suggests that the lesson here is “If we don’t pay attention to the systems we design and how they impact learning, they can become hurdles to jump over instead of supporting the teaching and learning that they were intended to create.”

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One final connection, Rachel was just telling me about an article that she read suggesting that rubrics can actually stifle student creativity. In Rubrics Save Time and Make Grading Criteria Visible, Anne Leahy suggests, “Students know that, on some level, they are writing to the rubric, instead of writing to think.” The danger is that students simply use the rubric to interpret the ideas of their teacher, which can unintentionally result in a classroom of students writing essentially their own versions of the exact same paper. Reflecting on that, I believe that both the proficiency scale and the student-made rubrics overcome the challenge by arming the students with the ability to imagine their own response to a learning goal, raise their level of thinking, and empowered to find their own unique way to meet a goal. In an education system that can often stifle creative thinking, I’m really excited about the heightened levels of creativity and thought that comes from engaging students in the assessment process.

I’d love to hear what other educators are doing.

How do you use assessment tools to promote student creativity, engagement, and thinking?