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Writing Effective Competency Based Rubrics

Writing Effective Competency Based Rubrics

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, the student will explore the way to write effective compentency based rubrics.

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In this tutorial, you'll learn how to write effective competency-based rubrics. We'll begin by discussing the performance levels that you'll include in your rubric. And we'll also discuss the performance elements or characteristics, the performance level descriptors, and finally, some best practices that you can use as you write and implement your competency-based rubrics. Let's get started.

First, let's talk about the performance levels that are part of the development of your competency-based rubric. You may find it helpful to use real samples of student work to guide you as you go through this process of developing your performance levels for your rubric. What you want to do is sort these student work samples into the descriptor categories that you feel are the best fit for the demonstrated level of performance. And then you would assign descriptors that accurately outline those various levels of achievement.

You'll usually use a scale of three or four different levels or ranges that indicate these broad categories. This could be a numerical scale like a simple one, two, three, four, or a series of descriptors like novice, developing, proficient, and exemplary. So these descriptors or numbers will run the scale from high to low.

And so, as you're thinking about creating these scales, you'll be considering what would a very novice level assignment look like. And compare this to what would an assignment look like at a mid-range level of completion. And then, what would an exemplary assignment look like. You may also consider using a 0 on a numerical scale. This would indicate just overall non-completion or non-performance of the task.

One more item to consider here is that you might actually want to avoid having an odd number of categories. Sometimes people, when they're employing a rubric, just tend to choose the middle number even if it isn't the best fit. There's something just about selecting that middle number when you are in the middle of using your rubric. So using an even number of categories or descriptors can help us to make more accurate determinations of the levels of proficiency that are displayed in the assessment.

So now, in addition to identifying these performance levels, you also will identify the varying performance elements or characteristics. These are the specific elements that you're going to be evaluating using the rubric. So depending on the assessment and on the rubric, you might identify anywhere from 3 to 15 different elements, each of these focusing on a different specific area or skill.

And then once you have identified your performance levels and your performance elements or characteristics, you'll move on to writing the performance level descriptions. Usually in this stage, you'll want to begin by describing the highest level of performance. What would you want to see in an ideal product or performance. And then, from there you'll work down, making sure that you clearly distinguish each description, both from the one above it and from the one below it.

You'll do this by changing the language or the vocabulary terms that you're using, and by just being sure to use distinguishing terms that clearly indicate those different levels of performance. You might consider using what we would call language scales to create these objective and measurable descriptions that you're going to include in your rubric. Some language skills might include never to always, or seldom to often, or major to minor, or maybe, rarely to always.

So these descriptors should be measurable, should be as objective as possible. You want to, when possible, avoid subjective descriptors. It can already be difficult enough to clearly distinguish between the differing levels of performance, and so the use of subjective descriptors can make it all that more difficult to justify the decisions you're making as you perform your evaluation using the rubric.

So for example, instead of saying the student used a lot of vocabulary from the unit, you might want to specify a specific number of vocabulary terms that the student needs to use. Or instead of saying, only minor grammatical errors are present, you might want to specify the impact that these grammatical errors need to have in order to justify a specific assignment on the scale. Or if you are evaluating an art project, you might want to stay away from a subjective descriptor like the student used good colors in their painting. Instead, you might want to use some more specific and a little more objective terms like, the student chose colors that conveyed a specific mood.

So as you are putting all of these pieces together, ideally your rubric should fit on just one single piece of paper. And you also need to make sure that you are, as part of this rubric, indicating the lowest acceptable level of performance that you would accept as constituting a passing grade.

So here are some best practices. First of all, you'll want to test each of the rubrics that you create on some sample student assignments. And make any revisions or changes as necessary based on the results of this test drive. You also want to just ensure that your rubric really is measuring what you want it to measure. Have you created categories and descriptors that really create an accurate picture of students' performance.

When you're writing your descriptors, it can be really helpful to use parallel language or parallel structure. And also, to use student-friendly language. Using the same basic sentence structure makes it easier to compare the varying levels of performance. And using the student-friendly language just helps make the rubric to be approachable for your students, and ultimately, it can make it more approachable for the assessors as well.

It's usually advisable to limit the number of columns in your rubric to about six. Trying to differentiate from more than six levels of performance really might be kind of impossible. Again, be sure to differentiator or distinguish among these varying levels of performance using clear descriptive language, using clearly identifiable characteristics, by pointing out measurable criteria. It just needs to be clear overall how the levels differ and what each of the levels entails on its own.

And finally, it's a good idea to share these rubrics with your students before they complete the project or assessment. Students should be familiar with the rubric, and they should know how it's going to be applied as their performance or product is assessed. In fact, you may want to actually walk through the rubric with your students to make sure they understand all of the various elements.

And you may want to consider using some common rubrics on a regular basis in your classroom. Using the same common rubric, or even just the same template each time, can really help students to understand how the rubric is used. And this may also help to provide more consistent results across time as the common rubric is employed.

In this tutorial you learned how to identify and create the performance levels, the performance elements or characteristics, and the performance level descriptors that are the necessary parts of creating an effective competency-based rubric. And finally, I shared with you some best practices to consider as you create and implement these rubrics. So now it's your turn to stop and reflect.

Consider an upcoming proficiency assessment. Try your hand at writing a competency-based rubric that is aligned with this assessment. As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Writing Effective Competency Based Rubrics"

(00:00 - 00:24) Introduction

(00:25 - 02:19) Performance Levels

(02:20 - 02:46) Performance Characteristics

(02:47 - 05:17) Performance Descriptions

(05:18 - 07:28) Best Practices

(07:29 - 07:47) Review

(07:48 - 08:20) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Authentic Assessment Toolbox

This toolbox provides a comprehensive review of rubrics and a 4-step process for development.

Creating and Using Rubrics

This Carnegie Mellon University webpage demonstrates how and why to create a rubric that includes performance descriptors. The steps are easy to follow and include examples.