Using Rubrics at the Institutional Level: Assessing the Assessment

September 18, 2023 Trudy Milburn

A cadre of competent and well-credentialed faculty, a rigorous and relevant curriculum, and evidence of student engagement and satisfaction were once the hallmarks of a high-quality degree program. 

Today, though, these traditional input measures are insufficient for proving a program's effectiveness at delivering value. All departments, and sometimes individual degree programs within departments, must now provide evidence of multiple types of academic and non-academic outcomes.

That's where the idea of “assessing the assessment” comes into play. Department chairs need easy ways to demonstrate their department's ability to meet program and institutional goals, and rubric-based assessments help them accomplish this task as well as identify ways to improve.

What is an assessment rubric?

An assessment rubric is a set of criteria that guides evaluators, such as faculty members and assessment professionals, in evaluating a program's quality. It's an essential tool for effective assessment processes at every level of an institution.

Faculty within departments can use the rubric to determine how well their assessment activities are working, and department leads can examine outcomes across multiple course sections for the most accurate insights. Institutional leadership and administration can evaluate assessment processes from a bird's-eye view to capture the big picture.

There are three main types of rubrics:

  • Analytic: This rubric type assesses each criterion on a sliding scale. Analytic rubrics are effective for gaining insight into your strengths and weaknesses in specific areas, but you need to take great care in defining each criterion to ensure consistency. 
  • Holistic: This type of rubric assesses all criteria together according to the same scale, producing a general evaluation of the assessment as a whole. Holistic rubrics save time by reducing the number of decisions evaluators need to make, but they don't allow for specific feedback.
  • Checklist: This rubric type evaluates your assessment based on the absence or presence of each specified criterion. They're best for simple, fast scoring — but they lack the opportunity to award a mid-level score.

Understanding the assessment you're evaluating with the rubric is essential for choosing the right type. 

Why use an institutional assessment rubric?

Using a rubric to assess your assessments is just as important as using one to assess student learning. The benefits of using rubrics to evaluate assessments include:

  • Standardizing assessment criteria: Applying the same criteria across your institution or department keeps everyone on the same page, enabling more consistent outcomes and easier collaboration.
  • Clarifying expected outcomes: When department leads understand the outcomes an assessment needs to meet, they can make more informed decisions to improve it. 
  • Saving time on assessment: Once your department has a solid rubric, you can reuse it each assessment period — though you will have to regularly reevaluate it to ensure it still serves its purpose. 
  • Producing better results: Having a rubric to guide your department helps you design more robust assessments and inspire better performance from students and faculty.
  • Facilitating actionable feedback: Rubrics clearly show whether faculty members are meeting their own assessment goals, which can provide better feedback for self-improvement. 
  • Enabling multi-dimensional assessment: A rubric can help raters evaluate your assessment from various angles to provide the most well-rounded feedback possible.

Essentially, if you want to ensure a straightforward, repeatable assessment process, a well-designed rubric is a necessity. 

How to create and use a rubric for institutional assessment

How to create and use a rubric for institutional assessment

Although institutional assessment rubrics are similar in nature to those used for individual assignments, it's important to account for the difference in scale. Institutional assessments are naturally going to be broader than those conducted at the course level, and the criteria you specify in your rubric should reflect this variance.

Here are some best practices for creating and implementing rubric-based assessments at the department and institutional levels:

1. Define goals and objectives

The first step is to establish what you plan to measure through your assessment.

Start by considering your intended outcomes for each element you intend to evaluate. Are assessments already in place to evaluate these outcomes? How effective are they?

 Key elements of rubric-based institutional assessment include:

  • Instructor performance.
  • Student satisfaction and engagement.
  • Program alignment with institutional mission.
  • Student achievement of learning outcomes.
  • Connection of course material to occupations.

2. Clearly define scoring criteria

Create a scoring scale of performance levels — for example, your rubric could rate your assessment quality on a scale from “Excellent” to “Poor.” Apply descriptors to each level to define the criteria for each level. These descriptors should be as specific and objective as possible to eliminate the possibility of bias in your evaluation. 

Checklist rubrics are the exception to this step, as they simply require a Yes or No answer for each criterion. 

3. Collaboratively review rubric draft 

Upon completing your rubric, the department lead should assemble all faculty members and other relevant stakeholders to review the draft as a group. This step helps ensure everyone agrees on the rubric criteria and understands how to use it, which helps facilitate more consistent assessments even across course sections. 

4. Test the rubric

Once your department reaches a consensus on the rubric, you can run a pilot assessment to ensure it fulfills its purpose. Take an existing assessment from a program or course and have everyone involved score it according to the rubric you created.

Before beginning the test, train all collaborators on how to use the rubric so they have the background knowledge they need to provide quality feedback. This training should also address the rationale behind each criterion so everyone understands the purpose the rubric is supposed to fulfill.

5. Solicit and implement feedback

After completing your test run, regroup and reflect on how well the assessment went. Some questions to answer include:

  • Was the rubric clear and easy to follow? 
  • What issues arose during the assessment process, if any?
  • What went well during the assessment process?

This step is essential for driving true continuous improvement within your department — and your institution as a whole. Building a culture of assessment in your institution can help encourage faculty to accept and use the feedback they receive.

Streamline institutional assessment with Watermark Outcomes Assessment Projects 

Measuring institutional achievements is simple when you have a solid rubric to guide you. Watermark Outcomes Assessment Projects — our scalable assessment software solution — makes rubric-based assessment easier for higher education institutions with intuitive scoring workflows and interactive reports.

Deep integrations with other Watermark applications and leading learning management systems (LMS) eliminates duplicate work by allowing information to flow seamlessly across your institution's tech stack. And activity monitoring capabilities enable you to track assessment progress in real time so you can resolve issues early.

Ready to see how Watermark simplifies the assessment process? Schedule your customized demo today.

Streamline institutional assessment with Watermark Outcomes Assessment Projects

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