Criteria vs Rubrics

Recently, I was in New Brunswick in Eastern Canada where I was asked, “What’s the difference between criteria and rubrics?”

Criteria describes the expectations for a product, a process or a collection of evidence of learning. When teachers co-construct criteria with students they will begin with the students’ ideas and then have them analyze samples to gain a better understanding of the quality expectations. When the criteria have been established, it is sometimes helpful to build a ‘pathway to success.’ These descriptions of moving towards success are often referred to as rubrics.

In some cases, rubrics can get in the way of learning. Consider the student who struggles. When she (or he) looks at the descriptions of level one or level two work, she often finds a description of how she has failed rather than the steps needed to move towards quality. Or, consider the student who chooses to not do as well as they might; she will often use a rubric to find out what work she can avoid doing.

Consider carefully whether you need a rubric at all. Sometimes, you may want to limit the evaluative feedback students receive during the learning time and will choose NOT to use a rubric. Other times, you may have an outstanding rubric or developmental continuum that helps support learning for all your students and you will choose to use it.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years developing resources that focus on criteria and rubrics. You might want to investigate one called the Facilitator’s Guide to Classroom Assessment K-12. It is a collection of 25 workshops including all video and directions and handouts. To help you design valuable rubrics, check out a video called Rubrics for Learning from the Facilitator’s Guide for Classroom Assessment (K-12).