I teach a practical class which is assessed by a lab report. I grade the lab reports based on a rubric. The rubric has 6 sections (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusions) with a number of items that I generally expect to see in each section. Historically, about 95% of the lab reports can be accurately graded based on the rubric while the remaining 5% of the lab reports go in unique, often very good, directions and therefore do not tick many of the boxes on the rubric. I am considering showing the students the grading rubric in advance of writing the reports this year with the hope that this will key them into what is important so that they can better demonstrate their understanding of the key issues. Is there any research that looks at the benefits and consequences of showing students a grading rubric in advance?
Being open and clear about your grading policy is a large part of what makes the grades you assign meaningful. In that respect, it is generally helpful to share the rubric with your students if you work from one. At minimum, a good grading system should meet three criteria:
- it should accurately reflect differences in student performance
- it should be clear to students so they can chart their own progress
- it should be fair
Sharing your rubric directly enhances the second criterion, and presents a context for evaluating the other two. You might also consider using some of your lecture time to go over examples of what an excellent lab report should look like and then discuss the rubric with your students. This would give you an opportunity to point out that lab reports should cover key points, but good lab reports don't necessarily follow a rigid cookie-cutter format.
Since you asked about sources on sharing rubrics with students:
The authors of Introduction to rubrics, mention discussing the grading rubric with students and even include a chapter on constructing/tailoring rubrics directly with student feedback.
[Stevens, et al.] "... because we discuss the rubric and thereby the grading criteria in class, the student has a much better idea of what these details mean ..."
However, you may be interested in this paper which examines the learning outcomes for different peer groups when they're given details about assessment criteria. Evidence for their conclusions is based on a very limited number of samples, so the usual cautions apply, but they found that simply sharing explicit grading criteria was not sufficient to positively influence learning, while making time for the students to work more intensively with the rubric did yield benefits.
[Rust, et al.] "... it is being engaged with the process of marking as well as seeing examples of other work that significantly contributes to the students’ subsequent improvement in performance."
Sharing a good rubric with your students can be a helpful way to let them understand what is expected of them. There is a down side in that the rubric then provides a basis for students to complain that you've graded a paper unfairly. Don't release the rubric unless you're really willing to give credit according to the rubric even if a paper has obvious flaws in areas not covered by the rubric.
There are disadvantages to distributing the rubric. Most importantly: it encourages sensible students to game the rubric rather than understanding and answering the question. I do not think this concentration on grading rather than learning is a good thing. Against this you must set the benefits of transparency and the ability of students to engage with their assessment.
You seem to think that the very good unique answers are a problem to be discouraged – I disagree; I think they’re a good thing. The difficulty for you is in grading them – and it seems you are sticking to your rubric in the face of good answers. This is a mistake. The rubric should be used as a guide to help you give consistent grades, not to limit the range of answers you will accept. When faced with a high-quality answer that does not fall neatly into your pre-written rubric, your response should be to try and grade that submission without the rubric not reduce the marks you award.
Write careful and comprehensive rubrics and distribute them with your assignments. What better way to tell students what you expect from the assignment than by telling them exactly how you are going to evaluate it?
If there are unique and interesting directions that you want to allow assignments to go but that you think your current rubric precludes, rewrite your rubric so that it's flexible enough to allow these papers to be assessed highly. A great rubric is clear enough that an instructor can communicate clearly what is expected in a way that is transparent, fair, and clear, but not so overconstrained that it leads students to formulaic box-checking. It's a tricky balance but worth striving for.
I wanted to continue the trend of substituting my opinion for the research you requested:
Any impact the sharing of the rubric itself has on student outcomes is secondary to the impact the transparency of sharing the rubric will have on you, your pedagogy, and the course itself. Even a controlled study of a large standardized course taught in many sections, half of which do/don't receive rubrics, is going to be blind to the cumulative benefits of transparency:
- being forced to clarify your expectations to yourself (i.e., extract them from your intuition) well enough create a rubric you're confident leaving in the hands of your students
- being encouraged to evaluate how well your pedagogical practices actually prepare students to meet these explicit expectations
- being forced to face problems with your expectations (as the distance between the grade you intuitively want to give a student and the grade the rubric suggests they deserve)
- being forced to renegotiate your rubric as students challenge it
In short, your ability to consistently apply your public rubric in ways that satisfy both you and your students is a good proxy for evaluating your own course design.
Beyond this, I'd also like to add to the "student benefits" concern: one of the overarching goals of education is to teach people how to do "good" work on their own. Learning to self-evaluate is a big part of consistently performing good work without supervision; learning the qualities of good work is a big part of learning to self-evaluate, along with feedback mechanisms that consistently communicate the importance/validity of these qualities.
In my training to be a public school teacher mostly from principals, assistant principals and other expert teachers, the expectation is we show the rubric when we give the original assignment.
In a related example, my college tutoring student with a long test has likely spent too much time on less critical questions because the professor did not explain the weight given to each question. Even when he got his test back he and I are unsure how much weight is being given to each question. This is inappropriate on the professor's part.
It is only fair to students that they know ahead of time what is important to the professor communicated through a rubric or advance knowledge of the grading scheme.