From the April 10 issue of The Teaching Professor:
Two Reasons Why I Still Use Rubrics
By Kevin Brown, Lee University, TN
I began using grading rubrics for essays several years ago, and I was initially rather unhappy with how they worked. I found I was giving grades that I wouldn’t have given when I graded without the rubric. Often the grades were higher, but not always. I gave enough lower grades to cause me to notice those as well. (link)
The piece goes on to use just plain rubric — the short version of grading rubric – throughout (without explanation or examples; the readers are supposed to know the word already). I could work out roughly what rubric meant in this context, given OED2’s chain of senses for the word:the color red; a heading printed in red, or a passage so marked; a heading in general [note to etymological purists: no printing headings in black, or any color other than red!]; an injunction; a general rule. So a rubric in the teaching context is presumably some sort of rule for assigning grades. But it sounds like something more specific is intended. And so it is.
The word is teacher jargon (using jargon neutrally, for expressions used by a particular profession or group and not easily understood by others, usually serving to provide short reference to some concept important to the group). A rubric — the Teacher Planet site here has dozens of them, for history, math, social studies, and so on, even for the design of scavenger hunts! — provides a set of factors (each factor representing an expectation for specific knowledge, ability, or performance) and for each factor, descriptions for assigning a student to one of a certain number of levels. For the Scavenger Hunt Rubric:
Factors: Contribution to Group, Sites, Questions, Cooperation, Final Hunt Results
Grading for Sites: 5 Sites found are all relevant to project and good source for questions. 4 Sites found are mostly relevant to project and good source for questions. 3 A few of the sites found are relevant and provide a fair source for questions. 2 Few sites are relevant. Sites are not a good source for questions. 1 No relevant sites are included. Sites are not good sources for questions.
The descriptions require some judgment on the part of the teacher, of course.
So rubrics break down expressing expectations, setting goals, and assessing performance into a number of explicit factors for the purposes of grading. It would be interesting to see something about the history of the technique and its possible relationship to similar assessment tools in industrial, business, etc. settings.