Six years ago I threw away all assessment rubrics for every task at all years levels of drama at my school. Radical.
Every teacher knows what a rubric is and nearly every drama teacher I know uses them with their students. But I hate them. Rubrics do my head in. All I find myself doing is secretly manipulating the awarded result based on the rubric to the grade I believe it should be for my student. So my rubric must be wrong, right? Yes. No. Maybe?
I don’t believe assessment rubrics suit all tasks. I can understand how the mathematics teacher would love a rubric because everything is black and white. But does a rubric have the flexibility needed in a creative discipline such as drama where there is often more grey than black or white?
If you’re a regular reader of The Drama Teacher, then you’ll know instantly that I’m a big fan of academic rigour in my drama teaching, so have no fear every assessment task my students undertake is soundly based on criteria, its just that I threw out the rubric with its descriptors years ago.
I’m also very careful not to make drama assessment subjective. It is critical for drama teachers to make our assessment objective, particularly given the nature of our discipline. However, the strictness of a rubric with all criteria evenly weighted does not in my opinion allow for the flexibility needed in most performance assessment in drama.
I prefer to write several feedback comments on the bottom of a criteria sheet, addressing areas that were met successfully plus those needing improvement. If I add a personal touch beyond the criteria, it will always be words of encouragement. I realise one can have a rubric sheet that also allows for comments, but most rubric sheets I’ve seen have the goal of the rubric descriptors for criteria replacing teacher comments. In this way, rubrics are quick and easy to use for the teacher. But are they the most effective assessment tool for drama?
The problem is, however, if one doesn’t have considerable experience as a drama educator, then working without a rubric for performance assessment can almost be suicidal. The rubric for the less experienced teacher offers structure and approval, even a security blanket for those needing confirmation. But for the more experienced teacher of drama, the rubric just gets in the way. The gut often says one grade, but the rubric says another, yet both decisions are based on the criteria.
Without a complicated rubric, one cannot have criteria weighted unevenly. In a rubric it is very tricky to place more emphasis on focus or use of voice, for example, above other criteria. Yet with a simple criteria sheet, one can clearly state the different weighting of criteria, arriving at a numerical score to be converted into a letter grade based on common school scores (eg. B+ = 75-79%).
If you’re a less experienced teacher of drama (one to five years experience) I’d suggest you use a rubric in drama assessment, unless you have a more experienced mentor in your department who can assist and guide you along the way so your assessment is accurate. But if you’re a more experienced drama educator (five or more years), I’d suggest throwing away the rubrics you may be using and enjoy the freedom of listening to what your gut tells you based on the criteria, instead.