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.

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?


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.


  • Great article Kathy, we use performance rubrics at my company, each employee is responsible for developing three key initiatives and indicate goals based on the following categories – met, exceeded and significantly exceeded. At the end of the year, employees bonus is based on the outcome of the key initiatives and the rubrics the results fall under. Of course, I try to meet the significantly exceeded category to position myself for a higher bonus. As a student, rubrics keep me on track and function as a check list when I am completing assignments. I think they are an excellent tool in the higher education environment and in the workplace.

  • Great article! I definitely believe rubrics have a place in workplace learning. Often times expectations are not clear both in training and on the job. I just attended a conference last week where a manager said she is tired of her employees expecting her to have all the answers and she expects them to be able to operate in ambiguity. I was amazed at the response. How is it that people are suppose to be effective and productive is there is no clear set of instructions, protocol and/or procedures. On the job training is essential to becoming an employee that produces concrete positive results. I think the rubric would probably be most useful as a post training tool. Where it is used to measure whether learners are utilizing what was learned in training and then there should be some sort of intrinsic or extrinsic reward.

    For example, I use to work at the telephone company and in training were we taught to use phone etiquette such as thanking the customer, repeating back the customer question or concern, resolving their issue in a one call turnaround, using the customers name on the call at least one time, tone, and recommending the correct products and services based upon the customers calling pattern. As a representative taking 60-70 calls a day, we were remotely monitored by supervisors who used the above criteria to rate us with quality assurance sheets. This was also used as a means for competition between co-workers. The highest ranking representatives received, pens, certificates, coffee mugs, gift cards, plaques, etc.

    It really help keep representative motivated because they knew what criteria on the quality sheet that every call would be critiqued by it was just a matter of performing.

  • I consider myself an engaged critical thinker with deep roots in Dewey’s student centered learning. As a student, rubrics have been helpful for me in making sure I am engaging at the level I expect of myself. It’s been wonderful to have things clearly laid out and honestly, I love a nice grid/visual to work from! For me, this has not curbed my desire to engage fully as I view rubrics as a framework not as the center of my learning experience. Grading and evaluation can be very subjective; I like a tool that helps make a part of it more objective while also do not make it the only way I chose to orient myself as a learner. I also love the idea of translating rubrics into performance reviews/conversations and annual work plans. A to do for my next HR/supervisor’s meeting.

  • I think rubrics are responsible for the inability of students today to take risks in learning and have contributed to the lack of critical thinking skills in the millennials. I teach at a university and students are unable to complete even the simplest task without extensive instruction and constant assurance during each step of an assignment. I attribute this inability to the use of rubric in K-12. They have now infected higher education as well. I think the suggestion that they be used even more extensively bodes very ill for creativity and innovation.

  • Great to hear Angela! Thank you for sharing your ideas about rubric application in training and performance management.

  • Thanks for the article Kathy. I think rubrics could be useful in functional training and assessing how the employee is applying the functional skills to their day to day work. It is much more difficult to apply to some of the softer skills that I teach such as Myers Briggs or Conflict Management. My team also does a lot of development planning with leaders after they receive a 360. Using a rubric in development planning will help both managers and employees see real progress. You have given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

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