The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

Opinion: rubrics are better than you think

Understanding challenges and paths to improvement in our nontraditional academic evaluation
Illustration+credit%3A+Riley+Young.
Illustration credit: Riley Young.

Walking out of class trying to decode whether your history rubric is a good grade or a bad one? Been there. Hands shaking as you nervously await your transcript because you’re not sure if your interim meant an A- or B+?  Done that. It’s no secret that Urban’s academic evaluation system is nontraditional when it comes to students receiving letter grades and teacher comments. While the rubric system is a unique form of evaluation and a powerful method for feedback, it definitely has its own below standards.

According to the Urban Curriculum Guide, “Urban students do not receive letter grades on individual assignments during the term.” In week six, students receive an interim rubric with personalized comments from their teacher for each of their classes. Students receive a final grade after the trimester is over. 

Rubrics can be helpful when a student is taking a course where they want to understand what specific skills they need to work on. 

Toby Chandriani ‘24 said, “I feel like it’s a lot easier to see where you’re having trouble and where you’re not. If it’s like English and quotes, it’ll say ‘choice of quotes.’ It breaks apart different aspects of [your work].”

Rubrics are appropriate for certain classes, such as English, because they are able to break down students’ progressing skills into smaller, more specific pieces. A letter grade can’t provide that level of specificity.

“The goal [of the rubric system] is not to obscure or hide the grade; it’s trying to be clear in terms of a more complete evaluation and suggest how to move forward towards success,” said Cathleen Sheehan, English department chair and teacher. “I like rubrics because they provide much more information.”

One reason to replace interim rubrics with a letter grade is that rubrics are ill-fitted for some parts of the Urban workload, such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) quizzes. 

“I think they’re good for things like science labs, but I don’t like rubrics for tests. I’ve been getting rubrics for my Calc tests, [but] I’d rather just have a number for that,” said Chandriani. “It’s either right or it’s wrong.”

Another grievance students share about rubrics is that check marks in columns don’t always correspond with one consistent grade, so an in-between at and above in an English rubric can mean something vastly different than in a math rubric. 

“I just wish the same rubrics always have a B+, and other rubrics always have an A so that there’s not, like, a wide range of rubric [markings] that all end up with the same letter grade,” said Chandriani. 

There has been talk among students about implementing a ghost grade, or a stand-in letter grade in addition to rubrics during interims. “In my English class, knowing my grade would be really helpful because sometimes my grades motivate me,” said Hannah Katznelson ‘26. If I do really bad, then I can do better. Or if I do really well, [then] I can keep doing what I was doing.” 

The muddy ground between one rubric and another is common. There is different work being evaluated in each class, so there are different results. To make it fair for students across different classes, teachers should aim for consistency throughout each department. 

“It’s interesting if what you’re seeing is a disconnect between departments. I’d be curious if they’re [within] departments – that would be very concerning,” said Sheehan. 

While rubrics could be supplemented with a letter grade, they are still helpful on their own for overall feedback. “It’s less about some kind of stagnant label of your work and much more about how you’re growing as a writer and a thinker,” said Sheehan. “Urban is really trying to do just that.”

About the Contributor
Riley Young, Editor in Chief, Creative