I’m trying to use more projects and open-ended assessments this year, but I’m getting bogged down with grading. I know I should use rubrics, but it’s hard to create them for every assignment. Any suggestions on how to streamline this process?
—Sarah, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Scoring objective tests is simple: the answer is either correct or incorrect. Essay questions, lab techniques, writing assignments, reports, cooperative learning/ group work, presentations, or other projects (including multimedia ones) are more complicated. Some students (intuitively or through prior experience) just seem to know how to do things well. Others, however, need some guidance to understand what quality work is. Facing a pile of reports or a roomful of projects to evaluate can be a daunting task. Sometimes the evaluation boils down to factors such as length, neatness, spelling/grammar, and whether it’s completed on time. While these criteria may be important, it’s easy to concentrate on these without an in-depth consideration of the actual content, demonstrated skills, or creativity of a science project or activity.
This is where rubrics can be useful. A rubric is a summary of desired work criteria, including descriptions of levels of achievement for each criterion. A rubric can range from a simple checklist (where the levels are “present” or “not present”) to a more detailed, analytic tool, written in the form of a table with levels such as excellent, proficient, basic, or beginning and a description of what work at that level would include or “look like.”
Creating rubrics can be a time-consuming task, but you don’t necessarily need a brand-new rubric for each assignment. For example, a basic “lab report” rubric can be tweaked for different kinds of investigations. As your students become more accomplished, you can add additional criteria. Examining rubrics created by others will give you some ideas to use or adapt, rather than always starting from scratch. Many NSTA journal articles and NSTA Press books include rubrics for the activities or investigations and exemplify a variety of formats and criteria.
The Internet is another source of ideas for rubrics and tools for creating them. Assessment and Rubric Information from Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators has ideas for rubrics on reports and presentations. In addition, there are dozens of other resources here on graphic organizers, report cards, and more. Rubistar requires free registration, but you can create, save, and print a variety of customized rubrics right from the website. Rubrics for Assessment, provided by the University of Wisconsin, is a collection of rubrics from a variety of sources.
It may be helpful if your science department has some common rubrics, although reaching a consensus on the levels and criteria may be a challenge. It’s not easy to put criteria and levels into words, but the discussions about the indicators of student learning can be enlightening and enjoyable. These common rubrics provide consistency across subjects, teachers, and grade levels. I recently visited a school in which each classroom displayed a standard rubric for informational writing, based on the state’s writing assessment criteria. Regardless of the subject area, the students and teachers had a consistent idea of effective writing.
Sharing the rubrics with the students ahead of time shows them how their work will be evaluated and eliminates the “guess what the teacher thinks is important” frustration many of us have felt ourselves. Students also get feedback that is more focused than just the phrase “good job” or “try harder.” As they become more familiar with rubrics, your students can help create them and use them for reflection and self-assessment.

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