What Is the Difference Between a Checklist & a Rubric?

A checklist serves as a tool to track tasks, not to provide assessment of student work.
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The trending term "rubric" in education is often confused with "checklist." Both methods are useful tools that can guide students who are working on school assignments. However, these are different systems teachers should use in distinct ways to provide feedback and important information for assessment.

1 A Checklist Is Not a Rubric

A checklist is a set of criteria teachers provide to ensure students understand how to fulfill all requirements of an assignment. For example, before submitting a research report for grading, a student can refer to a list of components the teacher needs in the final project, such as Title Page, Report, Maps or Tables and Bibliography. Further, the teacher may use a checklist to clarify expectations. Students can use this guide to be sure they are meeting the specifics: what format a document should be in, what font to use and how to present the report. Checklists can also list acceptable sites to use for research and deadlines and due dates that must be met. Technically, a checklist is a tool of tasks accomplished, not a means of assessing acquired knowledge.

2 Rubrics Help Students Aim for Excellence

Rubrics are given to students before a project is undertaken and should clearly show how their work will be evaluated. Rubrics provide detailed explanations of what constitutes excellence throughout a project. A thoroughly designed rubric may include real-world examples of expected results. A concise and well-written sample helps students know exactly what top-quality work looks like. Teachers use rubrics to explain exactly what students need to achieve in content and performance. John Larmar, editor in chief at the Buck Institute for Education, cautions teachers to have students practice using a rubric or even help create it to make the expectations helpful and even inspiring.

Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.