Using Rubrics to Help Assess Complex Achievement

There is a vacuum associated with the accurate measurement of complex student performance in education. As standardized tests satisfy the need for reliability in measuring student scores across the tests, they sacrifice some of their validity in understanding the complexity of individual student response. Rubrics that are currently in use in the arts may help suggest ways to more accurately measure student performance.

Pioneering Arts

The arts have a long history of pioneering and were one of the first subject areas to adopt the pursuit of national standards (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 1994). Researchers (Moss, 1996, Shay, 2004, Southworth, 2004) have argued that assessment is trapped in the psychometric side of understanding, in the standardization of the process across individuals, classrooms, districts and that the creative use of performance assessment might lead to more accurate measurement of student achievement.

Strategy of Common Template

The use of a common template that is individually constructed allows us to form an assessment system that achieves reliability without sacrificing the validity of individual contributions.

Once a community begins to engage in dialogue about the values that inform its assessment-based interpretations, inevitable differences in value perspectives will arise. I propose two principles to guide the negotiation of these differences.  First, differences can be a resource that strengthens validation practices. Second, some value differences may be irreconcilable. Thus, while consensus may be an ideal to strive for, the reality is that it is not always possible to achieve (Shay, 2004, p. 326).

Working towards consensus in the system supports a variety of approaches to meeting or exceeding standards and promotes diversity while specifying what needs to be standardized. Students should realize gains in a performance assessment system because a wide variety of approaches are acceptable in order for them to demonstrate understanding of the integration of the arts.

Performance Assessment

Unlike a multiple-choice or true-false test in which a student is asked to choose one of the responses provided, a Performance Assessment requires a student to perform a task or generate his or her own response.  For example, a performance assessment in writing would require a student to actually write something, rather than simply answering some multiple-choice questions on grammar or punctuation.

A Task and a Rubric

A performance assessment consists of two parts, a task and a set of scoring criteria or “rubric.”  The task may be a product, performance or extended written response to a question that requires the student to apply Critical Thinking skills. Some examples of performance assessment tasks include written compositions, speeches, works of art, science fair projects, research projects, musical performances, open-ended math problems, and analysis and interpretation of a story the student has read. Existing classroom instructional activities may often be transformed into a performance assessment with the addition of suitable scoring criteria (Chicago Public Schools).

Rubric Example

Below is a rubric example, for arts integration, that helps give us an idea of how to use rubrics. A few of its features include criteria down the left-hand side, four levels of performance across the top, and directions that specify how to use it. After you review it, see if some parts of it could be used or adapted for your assessment needs:

Criteria for Evidence of Arts Integration
Directions: please circle the number that shows the level of performance and use the space to describe the evidence 1NoEvidence 2LimitedEvidence 3Sufficient Evidence 4StrongEvidence
1. Connections between the arts and non-arts curricular areas are mutually reinforcing. 1    234
2. Students draw on prior knowledge. 1    234
3. Students collaborate to solve problems during the arts integration activities. 1    234
4. Students create original products/performances as opposed to copying.1    234
5. Students demonstrate their understandings through an art form. 1    234
6. Students have an opportunity to revise and improve their work. 1    234
7. Students engage in assessment of their own and peers’ work as part of the learning experience. 1    234
8. Students are encouraged to take risks and explore possibilities.1    234


  • Chicago Arts Partnership. (2008). Mission Statement.
  • Consortium of National Arts Education Associations. (1994). National Standards for Arts Education: What every young American should know and be able to do in the Arts. Retrieved from Reston, VA:
  • Moss, P. (1996). Enlarging the dialogue in educational measurement; Voices from interpretative research traditions. Educational Researcher, 25, 20-28.
  • New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). (2002). Impact Statements from the Field. Retrieved from New York:
  • Shay, S. B. (2004). The assessment of complex performance; A socially situated interpretive act. Harvard Educational Review, 74(3), 307-329.
  • Southworth, R. (2004). Assessment as professional development. New York: The SchoolWorks Lab, Inc.
  • Southworth, R., & Harris, M. (2003). Evaluation of the Arts-in-Education Department of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). New York, NY: The SchoolWorks Lab, Inc.
  • Wiggins, G. (1989a). Teaching to the (authentic) test. Educational Leadership, 46(7), 41-47.
  • Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative Assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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