I hate assessment rubrics. I hate designing them. I hate marking against them. But I also know that students love them, as do the quality assurance officers at most universities. Does this mean that I’m against quality assurance? No. Does this mean I am against students? Also no.
One of the paradoxes of higher education is that the “customer” is not always right. We do not cater to every want and need of students. Instead, we set independent standards and offer no guarantee of a degree at the end of the program. Students pay us, yes, but we do not “owe” them a degree; they have to earn it.
Students prefer assessment rubrics because they offer greater clarity over what is expected by the lecturer. A rubric might specify things like, for example: the total number of references or works cited needed for a given grade/ mark; the precise structure of an essay; the number of arguments that need to be made within each section; the number of practical implications stemming from the ideas presented, etc.
Some assessment rubrics are very extensive, guiding students toward an unambiguous understanding of the minimum requirements for a pass, distinction, or high distinction. Students can then calibrate exactly how much they need to put into the assessment to achieve an outcome.
It doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, at first glance, but let me tell you why it is.
When students graduate and enter the labor market, their supervisors will expect them to independently understand what needs to be done. They’re not going to design a rubric for each task and then assess each worker against it. They will be “outcome” driven, plain and simple. They will explain what outcome they desire and then leave it to the employee to make that happen. No one is going to hold your hand when you get the work, trust me.
“When students graduate and enter the labor market, their supervisors will expect them to independently understand what needs to be done. They’re not going to design a rubric for each task and then assess each worker against it. They will be “outcome” driven, plain and simple.”
I never had rubrics when I was an undergraduate, and I still figured out what was needed. This process of “figuring out” what is needed is developmentally invaluable. It’s almost as if the lack of specificity over an assessment meant that I had to over-prepare. I remember I had one professor when I was an undergraduate who assigned us seven books to read and then announced an exam. We asked if she could tell us what to focus on in preparing, and she refused. She then told us that an exam question could even come from one of the footnotes in one of the books. Unsurprisingly, 20 years later, I can still remember the key arguments in each book.
Rubrics present a false reality of the world of work to students. If you want to succeed in life, you need to be prepared for any eventuality, not only the ones you’ve been instructed to prepare for. You need to know what questions to ask if and when things are unclear. Welcome to the real world. Buckle up!
Professor Andrew R. Timming
This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 License.
To submit an article to Dire Ed, visit http://dire.ed.com/submissions/