The Mines DI&A initiative has raised awareness in our community of the numerous biases we have that affect our students, staff, and faculty colleagues. You have likely attended a training on understanding implicit bias or minimizing micro-aggressions, participated in new hiring and on-boarding practices, and/or helped modify and strengthen student recruitment. These are all practices designed to help create a culture of inclusion at Mines, resulting in a more equitable learning and living community. Although often overlooked, the classroom is not exempt from the effects of bias. Classroom research clearly documents racial, ethnic, and gender biases which can negatively influence student motivation and academic achievement. One way to help mitigate these forms of bias in the classroom is to fairly assess and assign scores to student work.

As one step towards developing unbiased classrooms, we highlight a teaching tool that simultaneously increases instructor efficiency, enhances feedback on student work, and decreases the effects of biases on grading of student work. This seemingly magical tool is the rubric. A recent study of 1500+ instructors found that rubrics mitigated scoring bias (Quinn, 2020), regardless of teachers’ implicit or explicit racial attitudes.

What is a rubric?

A rubric is standardized scoring guide used to assess a deliverable. An analytic rubric identifies important criteria (standards, components, or elements) an instructor will be looking for in that product or performance as well as levels of success (explicit descriptions of acceptable and unacceptable expectations) for each criterion.

Table with criteria as row headers and performance levels as column headers

The number of criteria depends on the number of components or qualities an instructor will be looking for in an assignment. Criteria should be distinct and specific; each criterion should have its own row. For example, a rubric designed to assess teamwork and may have four important components: teamwork, team discussions, team spirit, and dependability. These four components are clearly distinct and specific.

Each criterion needs a descriptor; that is, a discrete, precise description of work for each level of achievement such as high, medium, or low. Descriptors should be as parallel as possible so that students can easily see how to change behavior to increase their score. In this way, descriptors provide feedback for students about how work in each criterion can be improved. See the example below.

Example Rubric showing descriptions of criteria for various performance levels.

Steps in Developing an Analytic Rubric

  1. Brainstorm a list of criteria (qualities) important to the assignment (deliverable). Each criterion should be clearly distinct.
  2. Select 4–5 criteria (qualities) that are most important to the assignment. List the criteria in the left-hand column of the rubric.
  3. For each criterion, think about the range of student work you expect to see. How would you specifically describe top-level work? How would you specifically describe low-level work? How would you describe student work that falls somewhere in between? Avoid words like “good” or “bad”; think about the specific qualities that make it good or bad.
    1. Describe specific qualities of work that “exceeds expectations” in the “4” column.
    2. Describe specific qualities of work that is “low-level” in the “1” column.
    3. Describe specific qualities of work that “meets expectations” in the “3” column.
    4. Describe specific qualities of work that “needs improvement” in the “2” column.
  4. Try it! If your rubric does not work as well as you had hoped, revise it!

Calibration, Scoring, and Feedback

Rubrics are standardized scoring guides. That means that rubrics should be calibrated among scorers so that scorers consistently arrive at the same score on a particular piece of student work. There should not be room for subjective interpretation – a rubric identifies where students are in the learning process at a specific moment in time based on evidence. Using the same rubric over time allows students to see growth in their learning and performance. Learners should be provided with feedback so that they know where they are doing well, where they are not meeting a standard, and exactly how they can improve on a similar assignment.


Developing a rubric for an assignment takes time and thought upfront but there are many advantages to using a rubric. Grading and feedback are more transparent, efficient, objective, unbiased, and consistent. Instructor expectations are clear to students, especially if the rubric is shared with students along with the assignment. Rubrics can generate great discussions around expectations and learning for both instructors and students. In addition, summaries of results can reveal patterns of student strengths and areas of concern.

If you have questions or would like help developing rubrics for your course(s), please contact us!


Quinn, D. M. (2020). Experimental evidence on teachers’ racial bias in student evaluation: The role of grading scales. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 42(3), 375–392.