To Rubric or Not to Rubric

Some interesting thoughts on using rubrics can be found in this March 2006 article in the English Journal.  Reading this article was especially thought-provoking for me as I try to wrap my brain around what "authentic assessment" really means and should look like.  There is a great deal of discussion using the  term, authentic assessment, but I haven't read much that helps me determine exactly what it looks like.  Unfortunately, this article doesn't provide any real answers either, but the author, Alfie Kohn's, thoughts concerning the use of rubrics are fascinating.  Four quotes that especially caught my attention:
I’d been looking for an alternative to grades because research shows three reliable effects when students are graded: They tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in the learning itself.[2] The ultimate goal of authentic assessment must be the elimination of grades. But rubrics actually help to legitimate grades by offering a new way to derive them. They do nothing to address the terrible reality of students who have been led to focus on getting A’s rather than on making sense of ideas.

Rubrics are, above all, a tool to promote standardization, to turn teachers into grading machines or at least allow them to pretend that what they’re doing is exact and objective. Frankly, I’m amazed by the number of educators whose opposition to standardized tests and standardized curricula mysteriously fails to extend to standardized in-class assessments.

But I worry more about the success of rubrics than their failure. Just as it’s possible to raise standardized test scores as long as you’re willing to gut the curriculum and turn the school into a test-preparation factory, so it’s possible to get a bunch of people to agree on what rating to give an assignment as long as they’re willing to accept and apply someone else’s narrow criteria for what merits that rating. Once we check our judgment at the door, we can all learn to give a 4 to exactly the same things.

Studies have shown that too much attention to the quality of one’s performance is associated with more superficial thinking, less interest in whatever one is doing, less perseverance in the face of failure, and a tendency to attribute the outcome to innate ability and other factors thought to be beyond one’s control.[7] To that extent, more detailed and frequent evaluations of a student’s accomplishments may be downright counterproductive.

The entire paper is interesting; please take a moment and read through it.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on what authentic assessment should look like!

Photo Credit: Flickr - Rubrics Cube
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