Before I abolished grades, I went through my rubrics stage. I was convinced I could solve my assessment problems if I could just fine-tune my rubric production. I struggled for months trying to create ’student-proof’ rubrics that would allow me to consistantly assess their learning. I can’t say that the time I spent on rubrics was a waste – because I learned a lot – but what I learned is that rubrics have little to no place in the classroom.
A mark or grade is an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an indefinite amount of material. I like Paul Dressel’s quote on grades. They serve a function in society and before you discard them for their imperfections you need to be sure everyone is more or less on the same page for how we will structure assessment after the revolution. The French aristocratic regime certainly warranted replacement, what replaced their rule likely needed a sober second thought. Joe Bower is right to point out people’s predilection for seeing any and all forms of assessment, including rubrics themselves, as some variation on grades. A-B-C-D-F, 5-4-3-2-1, Ex-M-B-NY, or whatever; people persist in reading that as a percentage. “Meeting” expectations is what we use in the Prairie South School Division. Colleagues want to also have M+ and M- on the report card.
I think rubrics (hate the word actually) exist in a teacher’s head as that teacher critiques and workshops student work. The goal of articulated rubrics is to invite students into the evaluation process. I loved high school comprehensive final exams in June. It was a moment I could indulge in connoisseurship: judgment informed by intuition. I was not required to explain my evaluation. I’ll stand by those assessments too but they frustrated my students on the rare occasion when they had a chance to review their marked exams.
One of my practices was to offer a flexible weighting on student work. My students might prefer to redistribute the values on an assignment to capitalize on a strength. There is a logic to this that is manifest in a connoisseur’s evaluation and rarely in a rubric. Rubrics habitually weight criteria evenly or in an inflexible formula (We grade the same way). As a creative writing teacher I know the merits of a composition do not rest on a balanced formula of effect, setting, characterization and plot. Rubrics virtually collapse in an ineffectual heap when it comes to poetry. These are times when we must abandon our beloved little systems of charts and numbers and approach something on its own merits.
Report cards come out in seven days and my nine and ten year olds are beginning to think about their grades. I love the freedom of elementary school. We have worked to benchmarks and reflected on work in the context of rubrics. I have never mentioned grades throughout the term. It never seemed to matter.