Tag Archives: rubrics

Those aren’t numbers, so don’t treat them as though they were!

So you’re a teacher. You’ve read here and there on the web and you’ve decided it’s time to go standards-based w/r/t your grading. You’re thinking a 0-4 rubric is the way to go. You’ve given names to your categories.

Maybe you think of it this way:

4 Accomplished

3 Proficient

2 Beginning

1 Struggling

0 Missing

Or some such. In any case, you’re likely thinking of both 3 and 4 as pretty good. You’d be happy if all of your students were at the 3 or 4 level on a regular basis. But 2 isn’t a train wreck; kids scoring at the 2 level are making progress, but not the kind of progress you hope for. Your students scoring at the 1 level are in trouble, but not your 2’s.

This is all going well in your classroom. The holistic scoring is focusing your assessment efforts like never before. You’re able to have more meaningful conversations with students and their parents about student progress. You no longer debate missed minus signs and whether they are worth deducting half a point or a whole point. Grade-grubbing is a thing of the past in your classroom. Etc.

And now it’s time to figure grades.

If you’re like most of us the first time around, here’s what you do…

4 is 4/4 or 100%

3 is 3/4 or 75%

2 is 2/4 or 50%

1 is 1/4 or 25%

0 is 0%

And now your proficient kids are getting C’s and your beginners are failing. What do you do about this?

You could readjust your grading scale. But really? You’re gonna tell parents that 50% is passing in your class? That’s not gonna fly in most circumstances.

No, you need to change your thinking about that rubric. That 0-4 grading scale? It’s not made up of numbers, my friend. It’s made up of categories.

Useful categories. But not numerical ones. They might just as well be:

Unicorn Accomplished

Pegasus Proficient

Thoroughbred Beginning

Pony Struggling

Quarterhorse Missing

With that perspective, let’s go back and make those fractions again…

Unicorn is Unicorn/Unicorn or 100% (I suppose)

Pegasus is Pegasus/Unicorn What percent is that?


You get the point.

You’ve got to readjust your thinking. Those aren’t numbers, so you cannot treat them as though they were. Here’s a simple way out of this pickle:

4 means accomplished. I would like to assign this score the grade of A. So each score of 4 will be worth 100% of the points available. 

3 means proficient. I would like to assign this score the grade of B. So each score of 3 will be worth 85% of the points available.

2 means beginning. I would like to assign this score the grade of C. So each score of 2 will be worth 75% of the points available.

1 means struggling. I would like to assign this score the grade of D. So each score of 1 will be worth 65% of the points available.

0 means missing. I will assign 0% of the available points to this score.

Adjust to fit (1) whatever the operative percentage scale is in your school culture, and (2) whatever correspondence you would like to create between the score and the grade. Same philosophy for 0-5 rubrics, etc.

The point is that we need to be explicit with our students and with ourselves about the meaning we intend to assign each category in our rubric, and about the meaning we intend to communicate through our grades.

Here’s what this might look like (Canvas screenshot):

A sample rubric using the system described. The assignment is worth 80 points.

But whatever you do, you’ve gotta stop treating ordinal scales as though they were ratio measurements.