Assessment Rubrics In Drama

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.

Soap Opera Assessment Example

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7 Responses

  1. Nicolo says:

    Hi Justin,
    your site is great and this is very interesting. I personally don’t like rubrics either and your criteria sheet is very helpful indeed.
    Thanks a lot

  2. John says:


    Thanks for your rubric comments. I teach music at a local Catholic PreK-8th grade school. Part of my curriculum is to teach drama. Rubrics would be very helpful. Do you have any rubrics for grading effort and specific content? Anything would be welcome. Thank you.

  3. Hi Caitey,

    At my non-Government (Catholic) school, while we do adhere to AusVels in regard to the expected level of the child at a certain stage in their schooling, to my knowledge we do not use rubrics that include differentiation. Certain students meet strict criteria to be on an Individual Learning Program and receive modified tasks for assessment and modified reports in various subjects, but other than that, all students receive the same assessment that shows only the criteria and expected outcomes for the year level they are currently undertaking.

  4. Caitey says:

    Hi Justin

    I am just wondering how this works in regards to the VELS or AusVels, where we mark according to whether a student is below, at or above the expected level? Letter grades are largely a headache for government schools where we have to give a kid a grade that includes differentiation. So despite a student meeting all the criteria that is expected of them at that year level, they are still unable to get anything above a C grade. an A grade says you are two years above your peers. In terms of this it is entirely necessary to use rubrics which show three year levels of criteria rather than just the one. So while I am not a huge fan of the standard rubric ( under each section of the rubric I place an area for feedback) my question is, how do you account for differentiation in your classes and at a private school, do you even have to?


  5. Hi Jade,

    I have created an example and have published it as a pdf at the bottom of the post, above. Hope it helps.


  6. Jade Kemp says:

    Hi Justin,

    can you show a sample of how you present your feedback with the criteria. I am not a fan of rubrics either.


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