I hate rubrics.

It’s like this: Rubrics run the danger of encouraging “checklist think,” wherein a student checks off the aspects of the rubric to achieve the grade they want. Done well this doesn’t pose a problem, but it’s often not thought out- and the rubric becomes a mere checklist to be fulfilled. The danger with this is the elimination of opportunities for creativity. When the checklist becomes the gold standard, we risk loosing the ability to reward the divergent thinking student.

Consider that the rubric essentially becomes a contract between the student and the teacher. It allows for points to be awarded based on specific criteria. This is good, in that the students know exactly the sort of tasks they will be rewarded for. The flip of this, of course, is that educators can only reward for the things in that rubric.

I’ll offer an example from my education.

During my undergrad study, I was asked to write a paper in an English class. The topic was specified, as were several other criteria: evidence integration, structure, length, transitions, etc. Among the specifications was a stipulation that the paper be between five and seven double spaced typed pages long.

Let’s say that I’m not known for my long-form writing. It’s not my nature.

The paper I submitted was a scant three pages long- essentially half of what I’d been asked to provide. In all ways, the paper was excellent (if I do say so myself…), and it exhibited the sort of depth of thought and argument that the professor was looking for. When it came time for a grade, I was rewarded for my work with an “A.” There was no rubric for this paper- there were guidelines. As a result, the professor was free to grade my work on it’s merits. Had there been a rubric that specified the length of the paper, the professor would have had no choice but to deduct points for the short length of my work.

It’s not that rubrics are inherently bad. It’s that so many of the rubrics made aren’t thought out and structured to foster the creative and divergent thought we so badly need students to express. They aren’t rubrics- they’re checklists. And not good checklists at that.