Adjust your expectations and rethink the rubric

Rubrics show great promise as both a way to communicate expectations and to assess performance. In just a few short years, rubrics have become an essential resource in the race to make higher education more accountable. Can it be long before this unpretentious tool, once confined to k-12 classrooms, finds its way to the workplace? How can we best employ rubrics in the assessment and evaluation of workplace learning and performance?

Figure 1: Analytic rubric

Figure 1: Analytic rubric

Two Types of Rubrics
In its simplest form, a rubric is a document that defines the expectations for an assignment by listing the criteria and describing levels of quality (Andrade 2000). The typical rubric is a single-page matrix containing three essential features: evaluation criteria, quality definitions, and a scoring strategy. There are two primary types of rubrics, analytic and holistic. The analytic rubric is used most frequently and lists performance outcomes in the left column with levels of performance listed in the column headings (See Figure 1). In analytic rubrics, each performance outcome is assessed individually while in the holistic rubric, all criteria are listed and applied simultaneously to identify an overall judgement about the work. Regardless of the type of rubric used, all rubrics must have a clear description of criteria for evaluation over a continuum of quality.

Promising Results

Kathy Iverson is a professor and department chair for Roosevelt University's Training and Development graduate program. She teaches organization development, cultural diversity, research methodology, training foundations, consulting, and evaluation.

Kathy Iverson is a professor and department chair for Roosevelt University’s Training and Development graduate program.

In a study of adult students in business courses, the response to rubrics was overwhelmingly positive. Rubrics helped students see the link between learning objectives and outcomes by articulating the expectations of assignments, leading to increased performance (Bolton, 2006). Schneider (2006) also found a positive response to rubrics in higher education, with a caveat. Although 88% of college students found rubrics useful when they received them at the time the assignment was given only 10% of students found rubrics useful when provided after the assignment was graded. When given ahead of time, rubrics help students to clarify the work targets, self-regulate their progress, and make grading transparent and fair, but when shared after the fact, they have little value.

Students are not the only parties that benefit from rubrics In their defining work, Herman, Aschbacher, and Winter (1992) indicated that a carefully constructed scoring rubric will:

  • Help teachers define excellence and plan instruction that will help students achieve it;
  • Communicate to students what constitutes excellence and how to evaluate their own work;
  • Communicate goals and results to parents and others;
  • Help teachers or other raters be accurate, unbiased, and consistent in scoring assignments and projects; and
  • Document procedures used in making important judgments about student work.

So how do we take the rubric to work?
If rubrics support instructional design, link objectives to outcomes, enhance expectations, and increase performance, why are we not using them in workplace learning and performance? Perhaps it’s because they are viewed primarily as an academic tool, found mostly in the k-12 arena, or perhaps trainers, HR professionals, and adult learning experts don’t know how to create rubrics. In any case, it’s time for the rubric to continue its maturation process moving from grammar school, to high school, college, and now graduation to the workplace.

Questions
Do you think rubrics have a place in the training evaluation? If so, how might the best be used? What are the barriers to the application of rubrics in workplace learning and assessment? How might we overcome them?

References

Andrade, H. (2000). Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning. Educational Leadership, 57(5), 13-18.
Bolton, F. C. (2006). Rubrics and Adult Learners: Andragogy and Assessment. Assessment Update, 18(3), 5-6.
Herman, J. L., Aschbacher, P. R., & Winters, L. (1992). A practical guide to alternative assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Schneider, F. J. (2006). Rubrics for teacher education in community college. Community College Enterprise, 12(1), 39-55.
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14 comments

  • I think this is a great article. I for one, can honestly say that I have never given any thought to rubrics outside an academic setting. I think rubrics would be immensely effective when evaluating employees annually for a performance review, as well as for bonuses. Providing employees a job description of their role and a rubric when they are hired and/or promoted would be extremely beneficial for proving an employee insight into how their performance will be evaluated, especially when it comes to monetary gains. I can’t believe this hasn’t already been being done, and it’s not a trend for employers.

    M.

  • Rubrics definitely have a place in workplace training evaluation! Rubrics help to communicate expectations. They can shape conversations between trainer and trainee. They can also assist in managing the objectives — to ensure they are clear, concise and measurable. Rubrics help set the tone.
    The only limit I can see at the moment is the unfamiliarity of rubrics. If tasked with creating one, the creator may rush the process or not take it seriously enough because they don’t understand or better put, underestimate the value of rubrics. Offering a course on rubrics may be met negatively but if there is possibility to share the impact of rubrics while leaving the option to choose or not choose to use them — i think will garner a better attitude towards implementing rubrics.

  • I agree that rubrics are essential to communicating expectations. I’ve found that a lot of workplace issues can corrected by communicating expectations to workers. Over the years, performance appraisals have gone through various versions at my workplace. The current version includes our first attempt at organizing employee expectations in a rubric. This is helpful for both the employee and the evaluator. First the employee, like a student, knows exactly what type of work they need to complete to receive a specific rating. Secondly, supervisors will be able to better determine how to “grade” performance outcomes in the workplace.

    From my perspective, the time is now and rubrics are here!

  • Absolutely, rubrics have a place in training evaluation and allow me to add, employee evaluation. The post mentions,
    “rubrics help students to clarify the work targets, self-regulate their progress, and make grading transparent and fair, but when shared after the fact, they have little value.” Remove student and simply replace with attendee or employee and rubrics aid in transparency and help equalize the playing field. Having a rubric, removes much of the mystery and subjectivity of the evaluation process. Now I am not so naive as to believe evaluations will always be fair but I do believe that the presence of a rubric makes all more accountable.

  • For me rubics are a necessary part of my learning, whether that relates to my job learning, or my education. They allow the learner (me) to know, in advance, what the expectations are, how they will be used to determine competencies and/or my evaluation. It is then up to me, the learner/employee, to determine how much effort I want to put into my learning/job. It gives me the criteria for which I will be evaluated on, in advance. You will have employees that use that data to do the bare minimum and get by, but it also allows others to know how to exceed expectations and what they need to do in order to accomplish that. Expectations are clearly defined when rubics are utilized, for me that is essential.

    Communication is also enhanced when rubics are used. For example if you are unclear about expectations you can ask in advance, so there are no misunderstandings between the student and teacher, or employee and supervisor. Also, if there are deficiencies that need to be addressed clear data can be presented and used to address them.

  • The longer I’ve been teaching, the more I’ve come to embrace rubrics for even seemingly minor activities. It really helps me organize my own thoughts around grading, and it helps me ensure that I’m applying the same standards to everyone’s work. I’ve also found them useful in cases where a student has challenged their grade, because I can clearly point to the rubric and show which criteria were not satisfactorily demonstrated. Since I’ve been a student again, I’ve also realized how helpful they are when you’re doing an assignment as well. When I was last in school, my instructors rarely ever used rubrics, so I wasn’t accustomed to seeing them for every class until I started the MATD at Roosevelt. Being able to see the rubric in advance lets me assess my own work, and I know my work is better for it. In fact, that’s a huge benefit as a teacher too, because the more (properly scaffolded) self assessment students do, the better the quality of the work they eventually turn in.

    I’ve never considered using rubrics in a workplace, but the more I think about it the more I like the idea. Rubrics define levels of performance, and they set clear expectations. I don’t know that every job would benefit from a rubric, but I think certain tasks, duties within a job, or responsibilities that involve very specific desired results would be ideal places to try a rubric. That would ensure that the employees and managers both know precisely what “good” performance looks like.

    Once potential challenge I see is that rubrics can get quite long and complicated, and this could get unwieldy if you’re trying to create rubrics to assess someone’s total job performance, for instance. I think you could avoid this issue by breaking jobs into smaller components and assessing just one piece at a time, or only using rubrics for targeted, limited purposes (like assessing a customer interaction, which might be one piece going into a larger performance review).

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective on all levels–as a student, a teacher, and also as a workplace learning professional! Also, your point about rubrics becoming cumbersome for total job performance–something to ponder!

  • Rubric’s have helped to guide me in my academic career on numerous occasions because the expectations are clearly stated making it easy to succeed and know what is expected of you. I never thought that a rubric could be applied to work but, now that I am thinking about it, it makes sense! The rubric would outline expectations, deadlines and is a clear form of communication of what an employee needs to accomplish in order to be above average, average, etc.

    Rubric’s would be an asset to training evaluation because it would be a clear cut way to communicate what the criteria should be for a particular training session. It would be used best by perhaps being the actual survey or smile sheet that trainees fill out at the end. For example, instead of spending time (since we know they like to get out afterwards) writing down comments, they can just circle which category or portion of the rubric they felt the presentation took care of.

    The barriers that might appear to the application of rubrics in workplace learning and assessment is that they might be too broad. What I mean by this is that it would overlook important details that are necessary to communicate but, if you include a category to go over these details, then that problem is solved.

  • Great article! I love rubrics. They have helped me greatly by just clearly stating expectations. From a teaching perspective, it also provides a means to justify scores. I definitely think rubrics should and will be incorporated in the workplace and training evaluation as well. Rubrics in training evaluation can allow individuals to become more objective of their own quality of work and also the quality of their peers work. Rubrics in the workplace can also help managers assess skills that do not necessarily fall into the traditional testing or assessment fields.

    One barrier may be the initial time commitment of creating rubrics. Rubrics require attention to detail and an investment of time. In order to overcome this barrier, organizations can take a collective approach to creating rubrics that involve the input of both the employer and employee.

  • Without a doubt, I see a huge value in various forms of the rubric. By ensuring there is clarity around learning objectives and expectations, this type of transparency becomes a means to successful and attainable outcomes for practitioners and learners. For TD or OD departments, effective rubrics can be tough to balance in regards to training interventions. It seems as if they might be most appropriate at the beginning stages of planning and development, similar to the post. Going in with a direct criteria to support strategy is essential and the rubric initiates this. Using it at the evaluation phase might be a traditional method, but if the guidelines are not acknowledged in the beginning, the blog is correct in saying that is seems invalid.

    Some barriers to the rubric being utilized in the workplace, especially when TD practices are in the implementation stage, is the hindrance it can place on creativity. For the practitioner, having a set of rules to meet success may damper confidence and stifle innovation. For the learner, getting a rubric that is too restrictive or demanding might pause creative methods for learning, and shelter the ideals that freely come without constraints.

  • I have always liked rubrics in school because, if written well, they clarify the expectations and grading material of the projects/assignments. I think this made less work for the teachers too because there were less questions being asked by students about the assignments. I think we should certainly bring rubrics into the employment sphere. Once of the larger complaints affecting job satisfaction is ambiguous roles/expectations/directives. I can certainly attest from personal experience that it is very problematic when you aren’t sure your prime directives and what criteria your work is being evaluated on. Also, since students are used to using rubrics in school, it will be an easier transition for them when they enter the workforce. I think rubrics should be first introduced as part of new employee orientation. Have a rubric created specific to their job title and function. Let them know what their performance reviews are based on and what criteria they are being evaluated on. From there, they can also be employed per specific project in their work. There are some things rubrics can’t evaluate well and require a more subjective interpretation. This is especially true when talking about personality. Perhaps a blending of rubrics along with traditional performance evaluation would be beneficial to tracking performance.

  • I’m a huge fan of rubrics. In my opinion it’s one of the most effective ways a facilitator can communicate and outline expectations. In a way it mimics the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Method (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound). As a participant, a rubric provides clear accountability guidelines to achieve the desired grade that is often reflected in the assignment summary in a training class syllabus.

    As I was reading through this blog I couldn’t stop thinking about ways in which the rubric could be introduced in the workplace. I can see where a rubric could hold self-accountability standards for employees measuring their deliverables such as their job duties, following company policies and guidelines whether in the role as a TD or OD practitioner or otherwise. It can also assist decision makers (managers, supervisors, leaders, etc.) with clearly outlining the expectations through written communication. Ultimately the rubric can be used as a guideline for job performance measurements such as quarterly or annual reviews that may drive rewards (compensation) or recognition (promotion).

    There may even be an underlying synergy between the engagement of training evaluations, learning and assessments, and job performance reviews. For instance, if an educational rubric measures the outcome by grade, then perhaps the workplace rubric can measure the outcome by compensation increases or eligibility for promotion. Tying the expectation of job performance through learning and assessments can be measured by how often the employee attended a learning event, what resulted after attending the learning event (change in knowledge and/or behavior), and what,if any contributions were made as a result to advance the department or organization’s strategic goals. This would also encourage the employee to participate in training evaluations and encourage engagement and participation of surveys or questionnaires to provide objective feedback on the specifications outlined in the rubric.

    That being said, two barriers to the application of rubrics in the workplace learning and assessment come to mind. First, an employee would just “do whatever it takes” and “go through the motions” to get the rubric score needed for job advancement or compensation therefore their learning or behaviors become temporary or just enough to get to the results the employee desires to achieve. Second, would be the impact of employee turnover, voluntary or involuntary. If the learning and assessments are not achievable or accessible to the employee, it will set the rubric and processes described for failure thus opening the door for termination or resignation.

    To overcome these barriers, a trend analysis could be conducted by collecting data through survey and questionnaire evaluations to determine what is working as well as areas that need additional process improvement strategies.

    • Wonderful ideas! I like the idea of ties to rewards. I could also see rubrics as a virtual tool or a sort of dashboard that would link to tools needed to master the particular behavior. You’ve given me lots of ideas to consider perhaps for a follow up article.

      • Of course rubrics have a place in training evaluation. it would be an excellent tool to use along with each of the levels. Rubrics are popping up everywhere nowadays. When obtaining my BA we used rubrics for each of my projects I like them because it focus my work and allowed me to be responsible for what should be done and how to do.

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