Looking Back on a Year Without Rubrics


A Summative Assessment of Sorts

In my first year with the GWMP Teacher Inquiry and Writing Institute, I set out to investigate how I could make High Marq’s end-of-project assessments more meaningful and functional for students. So, I took a step back, owned my existing negative feelings about rubrics and looked into the literature around them. Early on, I decided to simply stop using rubrics in my project assessment, focusing instead on reflections and conferencing. These were the most meaningful components of our project assessment system, based on my own observations and feedback from students. So far, none of my students have stopped working, and I haven’t been visited by the assessment police.

As we close out the school year, I hope that I’ve begun to illuminate some of my problems with assessment and perhaps to grasp toward solutions. I’d hoped that by this point I would have a solid idea of what I might do to replace them, but I’m not there yet. I have the skeleton of a “single-point rubric” for projects on Drive, and I’ve refined our reflection guides to — I think — be more useful, but there’s work to be done. In the next year, I plan to work harder to co-create authentic, relevant assessments with my students that we can both feel good about.

Sharing my work at the 2019 Teacher Action Research Forum

It’s been a tough year. At our final teacher workday, we were told that there were 21 school days of closure or delay due to weather (flooding, cold, snow, ice). Honestly, it felt like more. For the last few months of the year, the school day started earlier and ended later, there were no early releases for professional development, and it still felt like we were chasing our tails all the way through to the last day. That said, I’m proud of what my students have accomplished and excited to spend the summer resting and learning as I plan for the year to come.

As student reflections were my primary means of summative assessment this year, I thought I’d include selections from their writing in this summative post.

“I learned how to be more confident and defend those who want to speak but are not confident enough in themselves.” –C.

“My hope is that by the time I’m gone from High Marq, I will have left mark on this school and the things we do.” –N.

“I’ve kind of grown to learn that you’re not really a good part of High Marq unless you’re able to teach others how to grow and change.” –S.

These three were from reflections on our advisory circles and general climate and culture at the school. My students didn’t need a rubric to tell them how well they were connecting and engaging with one another — they felt it for themselves.

“I really did grow this year as a leader because I got to see my weaknesses not only in the good times but in the difficult, or even more so, my strengths in the hard times as well.” –A.

“Something really big that I learned this year in [field] experiences is being a leader is more than just taking charge it’s really being responsible and looking out for everyone not just yourself.” –D.

These two were from reflections on our weekly field experiences. The weather wreaked a special kind of havoc on this aspect of our school, but students were flexible and adaptable enough to overcome those challenges. Who needs a rubric for leadership when your field team will be more than happy to tell you exactly how you’re doing?

An impromptu student-led work support group

“I could improve all my genre pieces by putting more time into everything. I usually rush things as i put things off a lot but if i put more time into the beginning of the year then all of my genre pieces would be better.” –C.


I would have told both of these students — and several more besides — that they should have started their work earlier to allow more time for revisions and polishing, but it’s much more meaningful when they are able to work that out for themselves. The key will be seeing if or how they apply this lesson to future work. Finding a way to “actualize” student reflections is one of my goals for next year.

“My project changed a lot when I’ve been doing my research, I changed my questions a lot and the more I learned about addictions, the more my project changed.” –D.

This new student just cracked the code of project-based learning. Given the amount of change their project underwent, any sort of static assessment created at the start would have been pretty meaningless by the end. I’d like to think about ways for them to develop adaptive assessments, though.

“The biggest way i have changed is finding out that you can’t leave a job half done on no matter what you always need to finish what you started no matter how long it takes.” –D.

Lastly, this message from a reflection on a community service project, is a perfect guide for my assessment work to come. It’s half done, but I’m not going to leave it that way, though I expect the work to continue for the rest of my career.

So, what do I hope my audience will take away from my year without rubrics? If nothing else, I want you to take away the message that assessment need not take any specific form just to “count” as assessment. I also want you to think critically about what and how much you assess your students. Does the assessment serve a purpose, or is it just following tradition? (And even if it’s the former, is that purpose worthwhile?)

I want you to include students in your decision making. They’re the ones most impacted by — and who stand to benefit the most from — your assessments, and they deserve a spot at the table. Reflections, rubrics, contracts, grades, standards — none of them are worth a damn if the students aren’t engaged in the process. This is my 10th year of teaching, and I believe now more than ever that good teaching is about working with students, not doing to them.

My advisory ended the year with Gratitude and Compliments

To that end, I’ll be seeing some of my students again in a couple of weeks, and I plan to ask them how they felt about our year without rubrics. Stay tuned.



Skylar L. Primm (he/him)
GMWP: Greater Madison Writing Project

Cultivating students’ power, nurturing students’ joy, celebrating students’ humanity. 🧡🌱 skylarprimm.com