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Aurora Institute

The Single-Point Mastery Rubric

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Joy Nolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

Behold the single-point rubric, my favorite tool discovery of 2017. The resource below is my adaptation of a resource posted at—tweaked for competency-based/mastery-based use.

This streamlined, elegant rubric serves many useful functions. Check out its simplicity and its easy adaptability to one or more outcomes in a single tool. Use it for focused grading, coaching, self-reflection, peer feedback, student-led conferences—the list could go on. And one of its main values is how it solves for several common pitfalls of rubrics along the way.

First the tool itself, then a short critique of traditional rubrics—and a few ideas about how this simple resource can help us bring a stronger game with many important aspects of communicating about learning.

Single-Point Mastery Rubric with three columns: Glows, Outcomes, Grows__________________________________________________________________________________

Note: You can use the middle column for either of these purposes:

  • We’ve seen this rubric in use most commonly for larger tasks/projects that assess several outcomes at once. In this case, use the middle column for a short list of  learning targets/outcomes that are in play for the assessment at hand.
  • For a smaller, more focused task, the middle column can be used instead to list indicators/ criteria for a single outcome.

Adapted from Cult of Pedagogy:


Fluckiger, J. (2010). Single point rubric: A tool for responsible student self-assessment. Teacher Education Faculty Publications. Paper 5. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from

Mertler, C. A. (2001). Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 7(25). Retrieved April 30, 2014 from


In favor of rubrics

Rubrics are hard to beat for sharing detailed information about academic expectations—and as such, they are a staple of most competency-based classrooms. Rubrics help get valuable criteria for success out of teachers’ heads and let it loose in the world, making it available for the use of everyone in the classroom. As someone educated in days of yore that preceded wide use of rubrics, they would have been very helpful to me as a young learner; hence, I am a big fan.

Common pitfalls of rubrics

It is quite difficult, however, to design clear and effective rubrics. Here are some common pitfalls I have noticed. (If you know other pitfalls, uses, solutions, please share in comment section.)

  • Mis-purposed: Rubrics are often conceived of and designed as tools for teachers’ grading—when ideally they could and should be tools for students’ learning. Teachers, how would you design a rubric if students were using your rubric as a roadmap for learning, rather than simply as a grading tool for assessments only? A rubric can articulate grade-level expectations for your learning outcomes—not just for individual tasks/assessments. If we saw rubrics this way, would we articulate any differently what it means to be approaching mastery, mastering, or exceeding expectations?
  • Faulty prognosticators: Rubrics attempt to forecast the qualities of work products that students will submit—sometimes with not much more accuracy than 10-day weather forecasts. It is difficult indeed to capture, in those tiny boxes, all the eventualities and variations on a theme of what students will create in response to our prompts. If you are using a pre-ordained rubric to grade work that has strengths and weaknesses not originally captured in the rubric—what do you do? How many hours of educators’ time go to evaluating student work with an ill-fitting rubric? Maybe more important, what message do we give students when the work they hand in is not reflected in relevant descriptors on the rubric? Perhaps they have gone off the rails, or perhaps they’ve met the criteria nicely in a different way than we had in mind when creating our rubrics.
  • Arbitrary distinctions: It is yet more difficult to articulate meaningful gradations in performance that mark different levels of mastery. What does it look like to be approaching mastery, at mastery, or exceeding expectations in your classes? It has to be more than the difference between the infamous never, sometimes, usually, and always that show up so often in rows of a rubric. (Also, about those not yet descriptors: Do we need them? Why focus students’ attention on what they should not be doing?)
  • Missing information: What key information fails to appear in our rubrics? In mathb for example: How do you capture the differences between computational errors and conceptual errors? It sounds like a small consideration, but if you’ve merely made a computational error, you are likely to get other similar problems/tasks correct—whereas if you’ve made a conceptual error, there is more learning needed for you to get to mastery of that problem/task. Big difference! Does your rubric make that clear?
  • Small text, and too much of it: Rubrics tend to present a lot of high-stakes text in small, crowded boxes. If a student’s grades depend on what’s in the rubric—and they do—then maybe rubrics should not be presented in many rows and columns of too-small type, jammed onto a page, or spilling onto several pages. Once you’re using 10-point type, you’re losing a lot of your readership. This is a big problem.
  • Not student-centered: Rubrics are time-consuming to write, and are often created by educators sans student input. So how much of that tiny type are learners actually taking in, processing, making good use of? I sometimes suggest handing a rubric to students with a highlighter, and asking them to mark what is comprehensible and useful—note that we are not asking them to mark what they do not get! This is like the difference between: Any questions? and the more hospitable: Let’s hear your questions. (The latter norms the questions, the former implies that it would be nice to move on, but the teacher is willing to pause for anyone brave enough to admit they don’t get it all.)
  • So many rubrics, so little time: It’s a common practice to create bespoke rubrics for each big project/task in a class . . . that is a lot of time-consuming work, and if you’re in a competency-based school, this norm needs a reset. If you are supporting students to get to independent mastery of learning outcomes over time, using the same rubric for the same outcome over time provides a vital benchmark to show progress.

Uses of the single-point rubric

Enter this lean, mean machine, a rubric as versatile as a Swiss Army knife, or one of those mind-boggling 27-in-one bicycle tools. Here are some ideas for how to use it to communicate about learning.

  • a reflection tool for individual learners after a project/assessment (also a great basis for preparing for a student-led parent/teacher conference).
  • a peer feedback tool for pairs or groups of students. You know how hard it is to get students to give each other positive feedback as well as criticisms? This rubric makes positive feedback half the exercise, by design.
  • a coaching tool for teachers and students to use together. If you have just a few precious minutes to give useful guidance to a student, this is the tool for you. It gets to the heart of the matter as efficiently as possible.
  • a learning and grading tool for students who struggle with reading/English. Because it is streamlined and contains a fraction of the text one sees in traditional rubrics, the language load is lighter, more useful and less overwhelming for students who don’t read easily.

Strengths of the single-point rubric

  • Streamlined: Because it is so streamlined, the single-point rubric is an excellent tool for students who struggle with reading. What classroom does not include students who glaze over when they see a matrix of boxes filled with tiny type? This fixes that.
  • Focused: Because it contains just one column, the rubric focuses learners, and gets them thinking about their strengths and growth areas in a pinpointed and personalized way.
  • Personalized and relevant: Because there is no language in the rubric that describes possible performances/work products, the feedback can be personalized to respond to each student’s work and capture each student’s growth areas and strengths. Never again do educators need to spend considerable time weighing whether students’ work is more like one or another preordained (and possible poorly fitting) indicator/descriptor.
  • Student centered: It is inherently student-centered, because the most important parts, personalized feedback comments, are created with and for a particular students or groups of learners.

Please share your thoughts on rubric design in the comment section—especially if you have used one-point rubrics and can share your experience—or you have other cool redesigns of rubrics to share. Thanks for reading, and best wishes for 2018.

See also:

Joy Nolan (joy [at] masterycollaborative [dot] org) is Co-Director of New York City Department of Education’s Mastery Collaborative, a community of 40+ public schools across the 5 boroughs that are implementing culturally responsive mastery/competency-based shifts. Joy also has a background and abiding interest in student-centered learning and curriculum design.