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Using Holistic Rubrics

Using Holistic Rubrics

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn about creating and using holistic rubrics to assess your students' performances and products.

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In this tutorial, we'll discuss the use of holistic rubrics in a CBE classroom. We'll begin with an overview of holistic rubrics, and then we'll discuss the benefits and disadvantages of their use. Finally, you'll learn to create a holistic rubric. And I will share with you some tips for use of holistic rubrics in your classroom. Let's get started.

To begin, let's identify what a holistic rubric is. A holistic rubric uses just a single scale that includes all of the criteria that are going to be considered together in the evaluation. So the result is that a single score is assigned based on an overall evaluation of the student's work. Often, the score is assigned on a scale of 1 to 4, 1 to 5, or 1 to 6 points.

The rubric may include descriptive terms that describe each level of performance. For example, novice, developing, proficient, and exemplary. A holistic rubric is used as a scoring guide. And the rater, or the person doing the assessment, matches the entire piece of student work to the single description on the rubric that best matches their overall impression of the student's performance or product. In other words, each number on the holistic rubric scale is assigned then to describe the overall performance or overall impression of the product as an aggregate score made up of several different criteria.

Here's an example of a holistic rubric that might be used to evaluate students' persuasive essays. This rubric uses a numerical scale of 1 to 4. And at the bottom end of the scale, assigned to the number 1 or the lowest level of proficiency, is a description that reads the student struggles to develop a persuasive argument. One or no sources are used to support the argument. The essay may contain grave grammatical or structural errors. The writing does not flow smoothly or logically, and MLA formatting is not used correctly.

Compare that to the description at the upper end of the scale with a numerical value of 4. The student successfully develops a persuasive argument and supports it with evidence from more than three valid sources. The essay is virtually free of grammatical or structural errors. The writing flows smoothly and logically, and MLA formatting is used correctly. So the values on the scale of 2 and 3 then fall in between these more extreme values at the upper and lower ends of the rubric.

The challenge then in assigning a value, here, is trying to match a student's essay to the description that is the best fit. It's clear that not all essays are going to fit precisely into one of these descriptions. And so we need to look at the overall picture and find the best fit along the scale.

Here's another example of a holistic rubric, this time aligned with a math standard asking students to solve systems of linear equations. Again, we have a numerical scale of 1 to 4, with the lowest level of proficiency assigned a value of 1. And then the highest level of proficiency at a value of 4.

Again, several different criteria are present here, including having students graph both of the linear equations on the same set of axes, asking students to correctly identify the intersection point, having students find the solution algebraically using a specific method, and then having students also verify that solution algebraically.

There are some clear benefits to employing holistic rubrics. First of all, holistic rubrics are often written in a broad sense, using that numerical scale often of just 1 to 4. Using this simple numerical scale results in minimizing the number of decisions that are necessary in order to assign a score to a piece of work. That results in quick scoring and also means that these holistic rubrics can often be applied to many different tasks.

Another benefit is that assessors who are trained in the use of holistic rubrics are usually able to provide very consistent results as they employ these rubrics. This results in reliable use of the rubric to evaluate student performance.

Holistic rubrics are appropriate for summative assessments because they provide an overall evaluation of a student's product or performance. There are some disadvantages, however, of using holistic rubrics. One potential downfall, here, is that the feedback that's provided from this rubric is not specific. The numerical scale that's assigned to a student performance or product does not tell that learner what these specific strengths were and what the specific weaknesses were. And so this may actually result in holistic rubrics not being a great fit for some of your summative assessments, if those assessments do require specific feedback.

So if you decide that a holistic rubric is a good fit for your classroom, how might you go about creating one of these rubrics? Your first step will be to identify your scoring criteria, and then label that scale with numbers, or words, or possibly both. So this could be your numerical scale of 1, 2, 3, and 4, or your descriptors like novice, developing, proficient, and exemplary.

Then you need to determine what level of performance or what type of product would merit each of those scores. In other words, what constitutes a 1, or a 2, or a 3, or a 4. Remember, the holistic rubric is going to be evaluating the performance or product as a whole unit, so we're not going to be separating out the specific criteria here.

So with this idea in mind, your next step will be to write specific descriptions for all of those varying levels. You need to create a specific description for each of the quality levels, not only for your assessors to use as they implement this rubric, but also for students to have available. Then you'll want to test drive the rubric. Try it out with a few sample student assignments, and this will help you to determine if any of the elements in the rubric need to be changed or refined. Then you'll want to select exemplars of student work that demonstrate each of the levels along the scale.

Once you've found these exemplars that really model each of the levels of the scoring, then you can compare students' work to those exemplars as part of the process of deciding which score each of the pieces of work should be assigned. These exemplars can also be really helpful to students. If they have access to these exemplary pieces of work as they are working on their own performances or products, that can help them to make decisions about how they complete the assessment.

So let's look back at the holistic rubric for the persuasive essay. My first step in developing this rubric was to identify the criteria for the assessment. I opted to use just a numerical scale of 1, 2, 3, and 4. Then I wrote a description of each of these quality levels that clearly outlined the various elements that were going to be put together to create this overall picture of the student's performance on the persuasive essay. After writing these descriptions, I would want to select a few sample student essays and try grading them using this rubric, and then make decisions about anything in the rubric that might need to be changed.

And finally, I would want to locate exemplars at each of the levels of performance. Again, not only would this be helpful for students to reference as they work on creating their essays, but it also will help me as I grade future essays so that if I have any questions or second thoughts about the score that should be assigned to an essay, I can try to determine which of the exemplars it is most closely matched with.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you look at implementing holistic rubrics. First of all, these types of rubrics are the most useful in situations where you want to provide overall feedback to students on their performance or on their product, and when you do not need to be considering different criteria separately.

So for this reason, a holistic rubric might be a good choice when you are evaluating creative projects. When there isn't just one right or wrong way to complete a project, it might be difficult for you to separate out and assign weights to those individual performance components. So a holistic rubric, again, can be a great fit because it helps you just to assess the overall picture. Holistic rubrics are also a nice choice when you value speed and consistency of evaluation.

Here are some examples from my classroom. I teach both mathematics and French. In my French class, one activity that I like to have students complete is to work together in pairs and use their iPads to record a conversation that they have written. So when I am watching and listening to these conversations, I'm looking for several different factors. All of these various pieces work together to create my overall picture of a single conversation.

In my geometry courses, I might choose to use a holistic rubric as I am evaluating students' ability to write a two-column proof. And finally, in an elementary school setting. A teacher might use a holistic rubric to represent-- using just a single numerical score-- their overall impression as a student reads a passage aloud.

So now it's your turn to stop and reflect. Where would a holistic rubric be a good fit in your classroom? To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the additional resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material.

Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Using Holistic Rubrics "

(00:00 - 00:23) Introduction

(00:24 - 03:33) Overview of Holistic Rubrics

(03:34 - 04:28) Benefits

(04:29 - 04:57) Disadvantages

(04:58 - 07:51) Creating Holistic Rubrics

(07:52 - 09:29) Tips

(09:30 - 09:55) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Teaching Commons: Types of Rubrics

This is a DePaul University site on the different types of rubrics available, how to develop them, and how to use them in scoring student work. This site offers clear steps and exemplars for teachers to follow when developing and using rubrics.

Authentic Assessment Toolbox

This toolbox provides directions and examples on how to create a holistic rubric. The steps are clear and easy to follow.