Automating Rubrics Breeds Success for Students (and Teachers)

from Educators' eZine

As our education system continues to demand more from our students, it is also more demanding on teachers. This is particularly true when it comes to the paperwork and recordkeeping that comes with assessing student performance. But because improvements in student assessment techniques have turned student evaluation from a static measurement into a learning tool, the extra paperwork and recordkeeping became a necessary evil.

As a teacher, I had an acute self-interest in reducing paperwork and recordkeeping. Knowing that the right technology can often streamline workflow, I decided it was time to find or create a technology solution that could provide more accurate student assessments, as well as tame the paperwork tiger. In my particular case, it involved evaluating students' multimedia presentations.

Years earlier, when I was in the business world, our company used a custom-designed ordering system that was based on FileMaker Pro database software. Salespeople had lookups from dropdown lists and fields filled in automatically based on a key field. It allowed our salespeople to spend more time on what they did best – sales. A solution using a database model similar to this ordering system would improve my grading accuracy and cut paperwork and filing chores.

The first solution I evaluated was Microsoft Access, which many have available as part of MS Office. However, Access lacked the ease-of-use and cross-platform functionality that was required. What was needed was a solution that could be easily created by a non-technical person, customized for our specific situation and easily changed as assessment needs were revised. We also wanted an application that would make it easy for teachers to share student information and assessment data.

A short time later, at the 2003 Georgia Educational Technology Conference, I had a "eureka" moment for developing a student assessment system. At the conference, I was re-introduced to FileMaker Pro and its capabilities. I was pleased to find that the program had added many new features and improvements since using it in the business world. It also fit all of my requirements for ease of use, flexibility and collaborative information sharing.

Managing Classroom Instruction through Rubrics

Returning from the conference, I used FileMaker Pro to build the first solution using the rubrics developed earlier that year. First, I imported the word "rubrics" as a background image and then created the assessment fields as overlays on that image. I then imported names from a CSV – Comma Separated Values – file from my grade book. Next, I created the drop-down lists and defined the relationships between the various fields. As simple as that, the proto-type application was ready for trial for the 2003-2004 school year.

Data Entry Screen ShotInstructor Data Input Screen features auto filled fields for student information based on Student Name and project descriptors based on Rubric Type

The impact of this powerful this tool in managing class instruction was immediate. As teachers, we often fall into patterns. Prior to this, I had always felt that the informal but personal verbal feedback was more effective than standardized written feedback. But the response by my student "clients" to the new electronic rubrics system upended my traditional assumption. Unsolicited, my students said they appreciated the more structured and specific feedback. They were also pleased to know that new assignments had grading rubrics published in advance.

Success Breeds Success

Prior to developing the Electronic Rubrics System, students had to informally learn over time what I thought was an A or B. Now, with a standardized assessment linked to a numerical scale, students had measurement targets. With a greater degree of specificity, they could improve the final version of their presentations or assignments.

Content Rubric ScreenshotContent Rubric that a student receives

Given the rubrics solution's initial success at the high school level, I designed a similar system for the business information systems classes I was teaching at Kennesaw State University. The challenge at the college level was that course assignments did not fit into one assessment style. Therefore it was necessary to develop two templates to assess their assignments. As part of the solution, I used a plug-in developer, Data Designs, which makes a script that Emails records (rubric) forms to students. Called iMailer, the script is a great time saver — I can distribute a set of graded projects to students electronically in the time it takes to get a cold drink. This is great, as instructional time is not lost in distributing grade reports to students over several class periods. There's also a fringe benefit. Because of the detailed feedback they get, I receive significantly less email from students inquiring about the reasoning behind the scores they received.

Rubrics Application Integrates with Microsoft Office

Because my rubrics application is built with FileMaker Pro, I can take advantage of FileMaker's ability to easily integrate with Microsoft Office files. I can easily import grade sheets developed in Excel spreadsheets into a FileMaker solution. You simply match the fields and run the "Import" function. FileMaker also easily imports information from CSV files. Most grade book programs have an "Export" feature and this will allow you to bring in your student information into FileMaker without having to retype the data. You can also export data from FileMaker to transfer it back into most grade books using a CSV format. This is truly a timesaver and allows you to integrate the rubrics solution with other teaching tools.

Another benefit to the FileMaker-based rubrics application is that it can work on Mac, Windows, Windows CE and Palm platforms. This allows me to grade presentations in real time while the student is presenting the assignment. It also simplifies the grading task and delivers a complete assessment quickly - right after the assignment has been presented.

Some teachers ask me "Is your rubrics systems really effective? Is it easy to use? Will it improve student performance?"

I simply tell them "yes," "yes," "yes."

Email:Michael Perry

Pendragon Productions - educational website for course system management in teaching.