This is Part 3 of a mini-series on a rubric masterclass. Be sure to check out the Intro post and subsequent posts.

Once we’ve identified our specific and common outcomes, we need to identify specific markers that will indicate where students are on the spectrum of proficiency. In fact, that’s where we get our next little bit of jargon: indicators. Indicators are the markers by which we will score our students in each row of the rubric. They help clarify what level of proficiency our students have achieved and illuminate a pathway for improvement. 

So now we need to design indicators for our specific and common outcomes for the rubric. Here’s my strategy: start by defining proficiency, then move outward. If we have a four column rubric and the third column marks proficiency, start by going down that column, inputting indicators. I’ll do that for my sample task. Recall that I already have the common SMP indicators figured out, because I shrewdly did that at the beginning of the school year. So let’s get at those specific indicators. 

For my proficient column, I identified the following hallmarks of proficiency for each outcome.

Demonstrates understanding of the coordinate plane

  • Correctly identifies Point Q. 
  • Correctly finds slope of the line.
  • Correctly identifies the y-intercept of the line.

Sets up and solves a system of equations

  • Identifies the two equations involved in the system.
  • Establishes a method to solve the system of equations.

You might come up with different indicators of proficiency and that’s ok. You may decide that in order to be proficient, a student has to fully solve or attempt to solve the system. I decided to establish proficiency as merely setting up a potential solution method. Your indicators will be informed by your personal proclivities, your class, the instruction that came before, and countless other variables.  

Currently I have this for my specific indicators.

Once we have proficiency defined, it’s easier to identify indicators marking a slightly higher level of achievement and slightly lower levels of achievement. For our rubric, that means we need to think of things that would make the student work more or less advanced. What could a proficient student strive to move up a column? What would make the work even more exemplary? Conversely, what would make the work not quite proficient? Close, but maybe just a bit under par; something students could improve with a little more investment? 

For advanced, I have one already: actually coming up with the correct solution! I’ll include that, plus a nod to sufficient evidence (although, I acknowledge I’m sort of double counting that with my SMP 6 common indicators).

For Developing, I typically try to think of things like “makes an attempt but makes an error somewhere.” Or if there’s multiple things for a student to do, I might make it just be one of those things. 

Here’s my Developing column. 

Now we have to define indicators for the lowest level of proficiency. I typically call that column emerging, but you could pick a different name for that column. This column is typically reserved for work that’s non-existent or nearly non-existient and shows little to no effort. 

Once you’ve completed this column, go back and review and make sure it looks right: does the rubric sufficiently represent a spectrum of student proficiency?

Now we essentially have our rubric! We have a rubric aligned to a specific task. It’s got four columns as well as specific and common outcomes and indicators.

This was a hefty process, but it seems more daunting when you read it in the form of static text. When I facilitate rubric-construction workshops in person or remotely, this first go-round takes maybe 45 minutes or so. As I’ve done this a few times, it takes me maybe 20 minutes after I’ve worked through the task. If I’m working with a grade level team, we’d split the work up. Assuming we have agreed-upon Portfolio Problems, we can divvy up the rubric construction, lessening your work load.

Now that we have our rubric, we need to discuss what we’re actually going to do with it. And that brings us to the thorny topic of scores, scoring, grades, and grading, which is our next post.


Be sure to subscribe to Emergent Math if you’d like to receive every new post in your inbox. If you’re new here, you can check out my featured posts page or other mini-series (Routines, Lessons, Problems, and Projects & Your Math Syllabus Boot Camp).

Additional posts in this mini-series:
Intro: A Rubric Masterclass
Part 1: Selecting Rubric Worthy Tasks
Part 2: Establishing Common and Specific Outcomes
Part 3: Defining Proficiency and Moving Outward
Part 4: Scores, scoring, grades, and grading
Part 5: Teaching with a rubric; teaching the rubric
Part 6: Humility in Grading

3 thoughts on “Part 3: Defining Proficiency & Moving Outward

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