Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rejecting Rubrics

Many legal writing professors have proposed rubrics as a better way to help students understand what is expected of them.  Now, Deborah L. Borman has questioned the use of rubrics.

De-Grading Assessment: Rejecting Rubrics in Favor of Authentic Analysis

(this article is not yet available for download)


"As writing professors struggle with such issues as increased class size, providing 'practice-ready' graduates, streamlining assignments, and accountability in assessment, many individual instructors and law school writing programs have developed articulated rubrics to assess students’ trial and appellate briefs. Rubrics may be as extensive as 20 categories and subcategories or may limited to only a few criteria. Rubrics by definition require the development of set, standardized criteria that the student must meet in each section or aspect of a brief in order to earn a certain set of points. These points earned in each section of the rubric then form the basis for the student’s grade.

In assessing a legal brief according to a standardized rubric, however, many subtleties of structure or analysis and much of the creativity of legal writing is unrewarded or lost. Using a rubric to assess a legal brief may result in the exact opposite of the intended result: an excellent and creatively written persuasive brief may 'fail' the rubric, while a brief that provides the exact criteria of the rubric may earn a top grade, despite lacking the intangible aspects of excellent persuasive writing.

Good writing does not result when locked into the matrix of a rubric. Rubrics impair writing and result in bad briefs. Rubrics replace authentic analysis of writing and reasoning with inauthentic pigeonholing that 'stamps standardization' onto a creative and analytical, i.e., non-standard process. A holistic approach to grading and assessing legal writing assignments leads to more comprehensible communication and ultimately better lawyering."
I am certain this article is going to be controversial.  Comments are welcome.

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