Why Rubrics are Maddening

My daughter Elena has always been one to combat the establishment- and my parenting, but the education system continues to feed her ammunition….

One day, after assuring me that her room was clean I was utterly shocked to find it in complete disarray. Clothes and towels covered her dresser and debris was scattered everywhere. As I stared in disbelief I demanded to know how she could possibly think that it was clean. Elena just stood there, looking directly into my eyes and calmly replied, “Well, you never gave me a rubric.”

I of course proceeded to clarify my expectations for cleanliness with a few choice words thrown in. But Elena’s response was more than simple insubordination- it was symptomatic of our hyper-focus on assessment and the impact that it is having on our children.

The idea that every assignment or responsibility needs to be unpacked into component tasks, metrics, and repercussions before a child can be expected to complete them, is a slippery slope to say the least. In addition to removing a sense of internal responsibility for assessing mastery or acceptable standards, it also negates opportunities for decision making, perspective taking, and metacognitive adjustments that are so critical to success. Taken to the extreme an over-reliance on metrics and rubrics can weaken one’s internal compass and foster dependence on external measures and expectations.

To be clear I am by no means blaming my daughter’s boldness on rubrics, nor am I suggesting that assessment has no place in education. I am, however, cautioning that developing our internal metrics for “good enough” is perhaps even more important than our need for clarity and high test scores…..

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About mbhuber2013

convener and co-founder of BTEP, instructor for Tanzania Study Abroad course; Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning at University at Buffalo

One response to “Why Rubrics are Maddening”

  1. michael collins says :

    Just the same when you establish the “clean room rubric” for Lena could you share it with Nora?

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