Fairness, Equity, Clarity and Sanity
Can one still be biased when grading with a rubric. Absolutely. However, I find that it is more difficult. Whenever those unintentional biases start creeping in, I ask myself, “have they done what was asked of them.” It is at those times that I cannot say, “I feel they didn’t use enough sources.” We all want more equitable classrooms, but first we must realize that we have biases. After all, we are human. We want to avoid having a situation where we say someone doesn’t have enough sources that used 4, but the next person has 3 sources and we do not dock their grade. Rubrics don’t eliminate bias, but they certainly can help.
Also, which is more clear? “I want you to use ample sources” or “To receive an A on this paper, you should use between 3-4 sources to verify your claims.” I think we can all agree that the latter example is more clear. Not only does this type of clearness help students to understand the expectation, but it also keeps the grader, you, more sane. Without rubrics, I often drive myself insane by trying to remember what I said four papers ago on the paper that had the same elements of the one I am currently on. I am obsessed with giving students equal grading standards, and rubrics help me achieve that end. I will never forget the feeling that other students were receiving higher grades than me on assignments because of who they were and not what they created or wrote. I had a feeling that my work was as good as theirs, and without a rubric there was no evidence to the contrary- a few scribbled comments was not enough to tell me why 13 points were deducted for something that I viewed as a minor mistake. I felt that grades were too subjective to the teacher. Rubrics were like a contract between you and your students- guaranteeing them they will get full credit if they do what is spelled out.
Can you have a rubric and still have the same problems described above? Yes. But if you are specific and take out subjective terms as much as possible you will be on a good path to fairness.
Use numbers. Instead of saying, “analyze several characters”, you should say, “analyze 2-3 characters.” I like to use ranges because some students may only analyze 2 characters but they do it extremely well. Other students may analyze three but not as deeply. These students should get roughly the same grade, and you are allowing writer choice: they choose how many and how deeply, but can still receive maximum points.
However, some categories cannot use numbers. For example, my class was assigned an “Unessay” where creativity was key. How do you put a number on creativity? Because I could not, I made this segment as specific as I could, but it still had a good bit of subjectiveness in it. I used terms like “little creativity” “a moderate amount of creativity” and “a good amount of creativity.” But I went further and added terms like, “only required elements presented” and “went above the stated requirements.” I wanted to add some objectivity. It can be proved if someone did something that is outside of the written requirements, thereby giving that student creativity credit.
You will drive yourself crazy if you try to create and use a rubric for each and every assignment. I only use them on major projects. Why? First of all, everyday grades do not dramatically affect students’ grades. Not that we want unfairness to reign in those grades, but as teachers we have limited time, so we should use rubrics for grades that will most certainly dramatically reduce or improve an overall grade.
Remember, rubrics do not take away the need for valuable feedback. I always give students notes along with the rubric. Students appreciate feedback because it helps them understand that you did not slap an arbitrary grade on their paper. Rubrics are a guide for both students and teachers, but they should be used in conjunction with verbal communication, written feedback and other methods of interaction between the student and the teacher.
Below are a couple of examples of very simple rubrics, I have made.