Teaching & Learning

Writing Standards Descriptors (for rubrics)

Characteristics of standards descriptors 

The job of standards descriptors is twofold - firstly, and most importantly, they inform students of the qualities and elements of their work that are being looked for in order to determine how well they have performed against each criterion. Secondly, standards descriptors assist markers in determining student grades by providing information about a typical, mid-level achievement within each standard for each criterion.

Therefore, standards descriptors: 

  • describe evidence in the student's response
  • describe the quality of the student's response in terms of the criteria suited to the task
  • give meaning to the mid-range or typical standards (HD-NN)
  • use words which are descriptive and comparative NOT just comparative
  • contain positive statements about student achievement
  • use language that is not derogatory
  • use unambiguous language which students' understand

Writing standards descriptors

When starting to write standards descriptors for a criterion, you should start by going back to the Intended Learning Outcome that is being measured, and then writing a description of what a student would need to do to meet the criterion sufficiently to demonstrate achievement of the ILO. You may also wish to start by noting down all the elements that you expect for the criterion. When you then reflect back on the minimum requirement to demonstrate achievement of the ILO being measured, to what extent students need to include each element can then be considered when writing the descriptor. 

Some examples of Pass standard descriptors:

Intended Learning Outcome Assessment Criterion Standard Descriptor - Pass
Contextualise the role of courts that deal with civil disputes Advise a client about the options available to them within the civil justice and dispute resolution landscape Provides advice about more than one dispute resolution process option that both accurately explains the process and applies the client's circumstances to justify the recommendation.
Use Higher Education theory, literature and practice to make and support arguments for teaching Explain how the activity is appropriate for your context, students and/or discipline

You described aspects of your teaching context, student cohort and discipline.

You provided some explanation for why the proposed activity is appropriate for your context, students and/or discipline.
Monitor and adapt performance skills in response to various audiences and non-theatrical spaces Work with the director, text and production team during the rehearsal process During rehearsals you adhered to all theatre rehearsal protocols and worked cooperatively with the director, other actors and the production team by:
  • contributing ideas that related to the director's vision; and
  • taking direction

The standards descriptors above demonstrate that it is appropriate to directly address the students, as well as being appropriate to simply refer to the work itself, without mention of the student. There is a third option as well, not shown in these examples, where these are combined, and refer to the students' work (e.g., your website ...). 

It is also equally appropriate to either use bullet points, or to identify key inclusions in separate sentences, or within a single sentence. The most important thing to remember when writing a standard descriptor is that it should make clear to students what they need to do within their assessment, and how well they need to do it. The language, therefore, must be meaningful to students and not include vague notions with variable interpretations.

Once you have a descriptor for the pass standard, the challenge is to describe three standards that exceed this standard, at different levels. Often, writing the High Distinction standard is the easiest place to start, as this is where a description of the ideal performance is appropriate. This descriptor should include similar elements to the pass standard, albeit at a much higher expectation of how well they are done. It is also suitable to have additional elements. If you take the approach of writing the pass and then the high distinction standard descriptors, it can be helpful to then describe the distinction standard as what is not up to the HD level, and the credit either as what is not yet a DN, or what demonstrates a higher level of achievement than a pass. An alternative approach is to start with the credit - describing what a performance a step up from a pass looks like, then a step up from this to a DN, then a step up from this, to an HD.

It is also important to describe the sort of performance or work that does not demonstrate achievement of the ILO being measured - the fail standard. This is best written to describe what the work does, rather than what it does not do - i.e., it should be written using positives as much as possible.

There is no 'single' approach to take when writing standards descriptors, but it is important that you moderate the rubric once it is complete, to be sure that it provides clarity for students, and for markers as well,

Some examples of a complete set of descriptors:

Desktop Guides and other support resources to help you set up and use a rubric in MyLO are available from the University Repositories tool in MyLO - search using the key word 'rubric'. Further information about using MyLO for assessment can be found in the MyLO site Teaching Online in MyLO.