Blog: Tips & Tricks

Grading vs. Assessment and How it Relates to Rubrics

Michelle Curtis July 30, 2015

Grading and assessment are integral parts of higher education. After working as an assessment coordinator at a private university on Long Island, I had constant discussions with multiple faculty members about both concepts, and how to incorporate them into the assessment loop. These two processes may have many overlapping qualities, but it’s important to identify what purpose each process serves. Grading is extremely important to students, as grades reflect how well a student performs on a particular assignment. However, grading doesn’t necessarily inform an institution of what skills students are developing by completing these assignments. That is what assessment is for. Now that we have an idea of what the difference between grading and assessment is, let’s look at the way these two processes are measured using rubrics.

Distinguishing a score sheet (or grading rubric) from an assessment rubric can be challenging. To the untrained eye, all rubrics look alike. We’re hoping that by the time you’ve finished reading this, you’ll be identifying each type of rubric like a Rubric Wizard…see what we did there?

Let’s look at how to differentiate a grading rubric from an assessment rubric. One of the main things to look at is the list of criteria. The criteria on a grading rubric tend to measure a student’s performance level on a particular assignment, rather than measure a student’s skill that can be assessed across assignments. For example, if a student was being evaluated on a reflection paper written about a work of literature, a criterion in a grading rubric might measure the student’s ability to define the main idea of the story. An assessment rubric, on the other hand, might measure the written communication skills the student demonstrates based on how the paper was written.

Another way to identify a difference between these two types of rubrics is to keep a lookout for points. Grading rubrics sometimes have a points system in conjunction with the performance levels, while assessment rubrics do not. These points are used to create a grade that can be issued back to the student on that assignment. Assessment rubric scores are meant to show student improvement on a particular skill across assignments, and across a period of time.

During our user conference 2015 CollabEx Live!, the “grading vs. assessment” topic came up in many discussions, including the rubrics roundtable discussion entitled “Best Practices: Rubrics”. There were many thoughts going around, but one major topic that had everyone in on the conversation was the differences between assessment and grading, and how these differences are reflected in an assessment rubric vs a grading rubric.

Still unsure if you can spot the difference? Take a look at the two rubrics below:

Rubric 1 Rubric 2

So, which one is the assessment rubric and which one is the grading rubric? You’ve got it! The first rubric is a grading rubric. The dead giveaway is the points system which you can see in each performance level, but even if there weren’t any points, the criteria listed are clearly related solely to the assignment at hand rather than a performance outcome that can be measured across other assignments. The assessment rubric, on the other hand, has criteria such as “content
development,” which can be measured in multiple assignments, rather than just this particular assignment.

It was great to get our users involved in this discussion and see how different institutions, and different academic programs within the institutions, develop and use their rubrics. It was also very exciting to see how many users are cognizant of the differences between a grading rubric and an assessment rubric, and how they are moving away from grading rubrics and using assessment rubrics in Taskstream. Ultimately, everyone agreed that the switch will result in consistent outcomes data, and lead to more effective student learning.

So why is this important? You still have to grade, right?

While an assignment is often created to have the students demonstrate they know and understand the content of the course, it is also often being used to assess what they can do. Some rubrics are a combination of both, and that’s when it gets tricky…stay tuned, Taskstreamers, for our next blog, coming soon!
Michelle Curtis has held various positions in the higher education industry over the past six years. Prior to joining Taskstream, she was the coordinator for accreditation and outcomes assessment at a private university on Long Island, where she worked closely with faculty in developing assessment plans and implementing new programs. Michelle and her husband reside in New York, but enjoy traveling, mostly to visit family in Brazil and England.

Author
Michelle Curtis
Taskstream