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 judgment 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.


  • As the article stated, “rubrics support instructional design, link objectives to outcomes, enhance expectations, and increase performance” and as such very much have a place in training evaluation. Rubrics also provide equality in that, by outlining expectations, all learners are evaluated equally. They also provide continuity, if an instructor is unavailable the new instructor can pick-up using the same expectations and standards established by the rubric. The most likely barrier I can anticipate is just the initial development and implementation of them. I think having templates developed to fit multiple types of trainings, would ease the use of them in future trainings.

  • Rubrics definitely have a plan in training and evaluation. It might look a little different because we’re assessing performance rather than assigning a grade one time, but, as mentioned here, establishing the ways by which success will be rated and the determining anything you intend to assess are important for training and evaluation.. and a rubric can be a helpful tool for organizing yourself and ensuring you don’t move goal posts and stay true to initial plans.

  • Megan Tedor Davenport

    I believe that rubrics have a place in training evaluation. They can be used in assessments, observations, and performance reviews in implementation of the Kirkpatrick model. In my opinion, rubrics make it easier for both the learner to know what they need to focus on and the instructor to asses. Some barriers I’ve seen with rubrics is keeping them concise and clear about what specifically is being evaluated. Vague rubrics or rubrics with paragraphs within each cell are not helpful. Some ways to overcome this barrier could be having a peer or potential learners review the rubric as well as using it in a test setting before actually implementing it.

  • I think rubrics can be very useful in training evaluation because they give basic, clear expectations, and remove bias from the evaluation and allow everyone to be assessed equally. I think one of the barriers may be the way employees view workplace learning and assessment. Many times, training that takes place is viewed as a reason to simply “check a box” for auditing purposes but I think that can be overcome by providing the rubric before the training takes place and ensuring the training being conducted is considered valuable for the employees.

  • Rubrics are an excellent tool to evaluate most things in the workplace. One can be performing their task in what they assume is a perfect manner, but at performance review time an avalanche of things an individual could have been doing better or missed magically appear to minimize receiving an increase. However, if the roles, expectations, and how that individual would be evaluated at performance review time was more clearly outlined/defined. Not only would that person try harder to meet or exceed expectation(s) the organization might see increases in productive and employee satisfaction. When roles and expectations are clearly defined employees can focus on their actual duties with maximum effort.

  • I think rubrics could be beneficial to training evaluation. Rubrics can give clear expectations, which makes tasks easier to obtain. By using a rubric (as a tool for training evaluation), trainers could have a template that could gauge an individual, team, and/or group and their progress of developing. Training and Development and OD practitioners should encourage organizations to implement the use of a rubric as a training tool (at least on a trial/temporary period), maybe for three to six months to determine if it will be effective or not for long-term or future usage.

  • Ginger Ulloa-Enright

    Rubrics provide learner expectations and give direction on content requirements. I find rubrics helpful when they are given prior to completing a course. It gives me a visual list of what is required from me and is a link to achieving learner objectives. It alleviates any guess work and provides transparency between learner and instructor. I think rubrics would be a beneficial addition to training evaluations. They can be implemented as part of a summative assessment within Kirkpatrick’s Level 3 evaluation of behavior change. For example, if customer service representatives attended a training on call quality improvement, a rubric can be designed for an observation of role playing with new skills learned. Rubrics can also be utilized for trainer facilitation expectations.

  • Rubrics are essential in setting expectations and laying the groundwork for the objectives of the course, and what constitutes passing or failing. Using a rubric to compare against evaluations would be a great use of one, not to mention useful in developing a syllabus.
    Thinking about my own workplace, we only have a syllabus for our courses. The Learners are told that they need to pass the exam to complete the training and move on to their actual role. What ISN’T stated is that a Learner can pass the exam, but not be extended an offer to continue if the Instructors and Supervisors don’t believe that they would be successful going forward. In that way, rubrics provide transparency within an organization.

  • Rubrics can be beneficial for workplace training, especially if that workplace training requires transfer of specific skills to the job. Specifically, I’m thinking of operating equipment or machinery where you must pass a test before being able to use/work in a certain environment. If that’s the case, I think providing the rubric ahead of time would be the most beneficial so learners can review what knowledge and skills they will need to know to pass the exam.

    While I think rubrics could be beneficial in soft skill trainings as well, I think they’re less useful than in the scenario above. I view rubrics as something that provides context for requirements to “pass” a test or course. Soft skils training can be more difficult to assign a pass/fail cut-off than more technical skills. It could be beneficial to use an adapted rubric to lay out the objectives and ways to transfer to the knowledge/skills to the job to allow for easier evaluation later.

  • I agree that rubrics could be very helpful in a training context.  Since rubrics are often used in schools to grade specific assignments, some may not see them as translating to a workplace training environment.  However, rubrics help ensure transparency, which is always worthwhile.  As the author points out, students find it most valuable when provided before they complete an assignment.  I am sure this would be the same in the workplace. I could see it as a means of laying out the training objectives and the criteria to be assessed. It could also provide the basis for an action plan after the training is complete: something for the employee to reference as they transfer what they learn to their job.  The rubric could end up being an excellent tool to reinforce the training.

  • amandavaughan11

    I think rubrics are a great way to be upfront with expectations. It used to seem they were a “secret tool” that teachers used to grade projects. They are very helpful when given beforehand. Once the goals and expectations are clearly defined, there isn’t a question of what needs to be done!

  • Rubrics are a great tool to use to make sure the most important topics are covered in the content as well as free of grammatical errors. There is a criteria that needs to be met and the rubric acts as a checklist and a list of instruction to insure the objectives and knowledge gained are both being met. I do recall seeing rubrics in my early educational journey however, back then, I did not understand them fully. With repetition, I learned that rubrics are informative and much needed when you have a blank slate and need a guide.

    With the guide to what is expected, the orientation of on boarding can be simplified if rubrics were included. It is simpler when the key elements are broken down in a 3 to 4 part simple form rubric over a very long list of job duties that may not apply to the position.

  • Rubrics are essential in sharing what mastery of a behavior/skill looks like, and informing those that are being assed on what they need to do to obtained that skill. I believe that rubrics should be used in the workplace as ongoing assessments. Essentially when a rubric is used, its purpose to assess if a skill has been meet through work that was shared. Transferring this mindset into the workplace could be essential with performance evaluation or even as a tool provided after a training when employees are being asked to implement a new behavior. The rubric will show the employees what they need to do to have “mastery”.
    Rubrics are used in the education field on a professional level when teachers are being evaluated. They are often just when administration comes in to observe a lesson being taught. The teacher is then scored on many things (engagement, activities, assessment tools, knowledge of content) out of score of 4 detailing their level of mastery. Unlike a rubric given to students for an assignment that is not looked at again after a grade was given, rubrics in the work place can be used after the evaluation. This will outline where people are currently, their areas of need, and what they need to do to grow. Rubrics should also be shared with those that are being evaluated far before they are assed.

  • I did not hear of the rubric until I was in graduate school. In my undergrad, I was in art college. During one of our final, Prof. asked students to write an essay on some subject (I do not remember the subject), but it totally depended on someone’s interpretation. I wrote an 8-page essay in 2 hours. I received C as a final grade. There was no rubric, and we could not dispute our grades.
    Additionally, we had a bell curve grading method of assigning grades. The instructor can decide what grade occupies the center of the distribution. It is possible to get B and fail or get a D and pass. I am not sure how the bell curve stands with the rubric?
    When using rubrics at the workplace, employees understand what is expected from them and what is necessary for employees to achieve a promotion/raise/bonus.

    • Priscila Membreno

      Interesting you brought up the bell curve. When I was reading it in your post, my first thought was- “How on earth can you use a curve bell to measure anything!”. Then I thought about grade school, I do recall grade school using that method. I dont think this method is a great measurement tool to determine final grades. The only instance I think using the bell curve method would be applied adequately would be if used to determine a result for a whole class/cohort/team. I dont think this method should be used for individuals like grading each student in a class.

      • As I was reading this post I was wondering if a rubric could be used with stakeholders to help define what good, better , best results might look like when preparing a training strategy. It seems like an easy, uncomplicated way to gather the information and allows for a place to document and record what successful impact would look like.

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