Reflections Newsletter

Measuring an Authentic Assessment Task: Ruminating on Rubrics

By Wendy A. Crocker, Curriculum and Elearning Specialist, Teaching Support Centre

Authentic assessment tasks have two parts. The first, as was described in the last issue of Reflections, is to think about ways in which the knowledge and skills of students can be demonstrated in “real life” or authentic ways. Review the student outcomes for the course. What is stated that successful candidates would know and be able to do? These demonstrations of knowledge form the basis of the task. Next, consider the best method for observing those demonstrated skills. Is it through a portfolio? A simulation or a case? A poster or a presentation? Then, list the criteria that you would consider appropriate to see as an active demonstration of what the student should know and be able to do. The second part of an authentic assessment is to consider how to measure the student performance on the task: construct a way to assess the quality of that demonstration. This article will focus on rubrics as one tool for assessing authentic assessment.

What is a rubric?

A rubric can take many forms depending on its purpose. In some cases, it is a numeric scale from one to five accompanied by a descriptor such as limited, satisfactory, good, very good, and excellent. Other rubrics may be a three point scale: unsatisfactory, satisfactory, and good. As the instructor, you determine the criteria to be assessed based on the outcomes that are to be demonstrated and then create the descriptors of what each demonstration “looks like”. The key to success in measuring an authentic assessment task is the level of clarity in expressing the criteria and the related performance at each level. Further, the rubric should be shared with the students before they begin the task so that they are well aware of your expectations for the assessment task and the outcomes being measured.

Analytic rubrics

Rubrics are often represented as a matrix that lists the criteria along the left or “y” axis, and the “how well” scale along the top or “x” axis. Each of the squares in the grid is completed with a description of what a performance/demonstration of the skill would look like at that level. Figure 1 (below) is a sample analytic rubric to assess participation during group work

Figure 1: Analytic rubrics
Criteria Distinguished Proficient Basic Unacceptable
Workload Did a full share of
the work—or more;
knows what needs
to be done and does
it; volunteers to help
Did an equal share
of the work; does
work when asked;
works hard most of
the time
Did almost as much
work as others;
seldom asks for help
Did less work than
others; doesn’t get
caught up after
absence; doesn’t ask
for help
Organisation Took the initiative
proposing meeting
times and getting
group organised
Worked agreeably
with partner(s)
concerning times
and places to meet
Could be coaxed into
meeting with other
Did not meet
partner(s) at agreed
times and places
Participation in discussions Provided many
good ideas for the
unit development;
others; clearly
desires, ideas,
personal needs, and
Participated in
shared feelings and
Listened mainly; on
some occasions,
made suggestions
Seemed bored with
conversations about
the unit; rarely spoke
up, and ideas were
off the mark
Meeting deadlines Completed assigned
work ahead of time
Completed assigned
work on time
Needed some
reminding; work
was late but it didn’t
affect grade
Needed much
reminding; work was
late and it did affect
the quality of work or
Showing up for meetings Showed up for
meetings punctually,
sometimes ahead
of time
Showed up for
meetings on time
Showed up late,
but it wasn’t a
big problem for
completing work
No show or
extremely late; feeble
or no excuse offered

Retrieved from:

It is imperative that in reading across a row of criteria descriptions that the progression from one level to the next is natural and achievable. When reading down the columns to obtain a sense of what a performance at a given level would look like, the descriptors should echo one another with similar descriptions of performance against the given criteria. The difference from one level to the next should be a natural step and not a leap – especially between the two uppermost levels. The top level of the rubric should be attainable and not contain extraneous criteria that were not expected as demonstrations of knowledge or skill at the lower levels. Each rubric level should enable students to demonstrate deeper levels of understanding, making connections among ideas, communicating those ideas in a clear, professional and perhaps creative way, and demonstrating command of the material at the level of Apply, Evaluate, or Create according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Holistic Rubrics

Alternatively, holistic rubrics group a set of observable skills under a grade heading as in Figure 2 (below). While a holistic rubric offers a “sense” of a student’s performance they should not be used to
isolate each criteria and mentally assign a level to each. Instead, the characteristics are taken as a group and assigned a grade.

Figure 2: Holistic Rubrics
  • Always prepared and attends class
  • Participates constructively in class
  • Exhibits preparedness and punctuality in class/class work
  • Works well with others and is a team player
  • Demonstrates initiative and improvement
  • Seeks to understand and acknowledge others’ thoughts
  • Often reaches full potential if sufficiently challenged
  • Class assignments have something extra about them
  • Exceptional content knowledge
  • Demonstrates ability to integrate new knowledge into work
  • Challenges his/her own thoughts and ideas
  • Usually prepared and attends class
  • Participates constructively in class, works well with others, and is
  • a team player
  • Excellent content knowledge
  • Completes all class assignments; occasionally adds something
  • extra
  • Demonstrates initiative and improvement
  • Seeks to understand and acknowledge others’ thoughts
  • Stretches to reach full potential
  • Sometimes prepared and attends class
  • Average content knowledge
  • Occasionally or only challenges thought when encouraged by
  • others
  • Assignments reflect average work
  • Sometimes an active participant in class; works well with others
  • Rarely prepared or attends class
  • Rarely participates constructively in class
  • Assignments are late, incomplete, or not turned in at all
  • Low level of content knowledge
  • Does not strive to reach potential.

Retrieved from teaching-tips/assessing-student-work/grading-and-feedback/rubricsuseful- assessment-tools

Why use rubrics?

Creating a high quality assessment rubric can be time consuming in the initial stages but is worth the investment. Rubrics are a useful tool to ensure a more consistent assessment of student work. The assessment tool gives students a framework of expectations and teachers a framework for what is being assessed.

More Resources on Authentic Assessment and Rubrics

Authentic Assessment:

Deakin University (Australia)

Jon Meuller Authentic Assessment Toolbox

McQuarie University (Australia)

UNSW (Australia)

University of Wisconsin STOUT


Faculty Focus

Ken Ronkowitz

Online instructional resources on assessment and rubrics – Dr.Rosen, Michigan State

Iowa University- Purdue University Indianapolis

Cornell University rubric resources

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