Rubric for Grading Social Studies Projects

A rubric can make it easier to score social studies projects.

A rubric is tool used to score subjective assessments, such as essays and projects, that do not have just right or wrong answers. A well-developed rubric provides consistent and transparent grading. Ideally, instructors provide the scoring rubric when assigning the project or essay, so students can use it as a guide for developing the assignment and for self-evaluation.

1 Rubric Development

A rubric usually looks like a table with columns and rows. The rows contain the elements to evaluate, such as a performance, behavior or quality. The columns include a range of scores with descriptions of the degree of the specific performance expectations. The final grade is based on the sum of these scores.

Ideally, the teacher develops the rubric during the instructional design phase. This is the “backward planning” developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in "Understanding by Design," as explained on the Authentic Education website. Creating a "teacher sample" of the project provides a basis for developing the rubric and allows the instructor to analyze exactly what content and skills the students need for the assessment. The completed rubric is compared to the lesson plans to make sure all the evaluated elements are taught.

2 Evaluation Elements

Rubistar, TeAchnology and Rubric Machine, as online tools, suggest four to eight elements as the ideal amount for evaluation. Instructors typically use recommended or required content standards to decide what elements of the project to evaluate, such as the accuracy of content, grammar and spelling. In an oral presentation, the instructor might evaluate voice projection and body language. For a multimedia presentation, the rubric assesses points such as organization, formatting and technical quality. Evaluating the graphic qualities of a product demonstrates how students make connections between different subjects, such as linking an art lesson with social studies.

3 Performance Descriptions

A rubric describes each level of performance in a succinct and clear way, without including subjective terms such as "most," "some," "few," "attractive" and "poor." Also, only one expectation of the performance makes it into a description, because using "and" creates a scoring dilemma if only one of the the expectations is present. Three descriptions -- "below-average," "average" and "above-average" -- serve as the minimum, with five descriptions corresponding to the commonly used grading scale of "A," "B," "C," "D" and "F."

4 Value

Sharing the rubric with students from the start gives them ownership and increases the learning and the quality of the final product. A rubric is stronger if students give input and ask for clarification of the descriptions. It takes a significant amount of front-end time to develop a strong rubric, but the payoff comes in the ease with which teachers can be consistent in evaluating those tough-to-grade assignments.

Lee Ann Dumas began writing professionally in 2000. As an education professional who has worked with several universities, Dumas has been published in the "Association of Teacher Education Yearbook XIII" and "Education Review." She completed her doctorate in higher and postsecondary education at Arizona State University.