The College of Education’s Joseph Flynn, associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF), has a new book out which he co-edited with his colleague Michelle Tenam-Zemach, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Abraham Fischler School of Education in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Their book, “Rubric Nation: Critical Inquiries on the Impact of Rubrics in Education,” examines the impact rubrics* have on professionals and students across the educational spectrum as well as on modern society and culture.
The idea for the book came up a few years ago at an American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) conference when Flynn and Tenam-Zemach were talking about how ubiquitous rubrics have become.
“Reflecting on our own teacher preparation experience, Michelle and I realized that we did not use rubrics in college, so the question became when did rubrics start appearing everywhere in teacher education?” Flynn recalled.
“Rubrics are not good or bad in and of themselves,” he said. “On one hand effectively designed rubrics can be very useful for educators in structuring assignments and conveying expectations; yet on the other hand rubrics can also have unintended consequences. For example, rubrics can ultimately minimize students’ willingness to take risks in their learning because they become so focused on what they need to do to get an A.”
Flynn added that their research also found that students using rubrics might be less willing to engage in productive conversations with peers or teachers about their assignments.
Rubrics have also become an issue for practicing teachers as well, according to Flynn. “The use of rubrics in high stakes teacher assessment is also seeing some problems,” he said. “Many states and districts are adopting rubrics for assessing teachers, but they are using them improperly. Rubrics like the Charlotte Danielson rubric were designed to encourage discussions between teachers and administrators, not evaluations that could cause a teacher to lose her job.” These trends encouraged Flynn and Tenam-Zemach to seek out research and scholarship critically examining rubrics.
Flynn said the conversations he had at AATC were key in the development of the manuscript, and — because rubrics are used for almost everything in education from high-stakes testing to tenure promotion and teacher evaluations — he hopes that more research will be done on rubrics in the future.
“We think it is really important that more research is dedicated to critically examining rubrics. Rubrics may have noble intentions, but that does not necessarily mean that they do not have negative consequences.”
* A rubric is a tool used by teachers to define how a particular assignment or activity will be graded; rubrics describe, in writing, not only what a student needs to include in the assignment, it also describes the quality of each of the inputs. If one of the criteria for grading an essay is spelling, for example, then the rubric might state that to receive an “Excellent” the essay must contain no spelling errors; to receive a “Good” it can contain up to two spelling errors. Three or more misspelled words would result in a “Needs Improvement” in the spelling criteria.