Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why the Missing 'R' in Rubrics?

This is a question that's been circling around SE2 lately that's worth a discussion.  There are many teachers who are wondering why rubrics only have levels 1 to 4.  Some are starting to add the R criteria to teacher-created rubrics. 

Before we can answer this question, we must agree on what we mean by an R or Below 50.  Does it mean 'no evidence", 'zero evidence' or 'not enough evidence'?

Surprisingly, neither the Fresh AER document nor the Ontario Curriculum for Mathematics addresses this matter.  Unfortunately, this lack of clarity has created inconsistencies amongst our schools which has ultimately resulted in our students being unfairly asssessed and/or evaluated.

Growing Success is a document the Ministry of Education has been promising to release to address the inconsistencies and create a common message among all Ontario educators.  Unfortunately, it has not grown out of it's draft stage as yet.  Luckily, there's a PDF version available:


This is what it has to say about R or Below 50:
  • The student has not demonstrated the required knowledge and skills. Extensive remediation is required.

  • “R”/ “Below 50” does not correspond to one of the four achievement levels.
  • “R”/ “Below 50” is used for reporting purposes to flag the need for remediation and parent involvement.

  • “R” signals that additional learning is required before the student will begin to achieve success with this grade’s expectations.
Based on this, you can begin to answer the original question: does an R belong on a rubric?  Are you sure?

Some other questions to consider, while we're on the topic:
  • Does your grade team/divison/school share the same criteria for R/Below 50?  If so, how did you come to this consistent messaging?
  • What's the difference between an R/Below 50 on an assessment task and an R/Below 50 on the report card?
  • Can a student get an R or Below 50 on formative assessments and still receive a B or equivalent on the report card? 
Feel free to respond to one or all of the questions by using the Comments link below.  The more we have these 'difficult' conversations, the closer we'll come to understanding this widely misunderstood topic of assessment and evaluation!


  1. This whole argument comes down to the question of whether we are assessing or evaluating. We assess, teach, assess, teach, assess again. At the end of a period dictated by the Ministry, we evaluate and put a mark or grade on a report card. For me this is the only place that an R should appear anywhere near a kid's work. In other words, having failed all humanly possible methods of teaching, the child still does not meet any of the established criteria of the expectations, we mark the report with an R.
    I like assessing. I observe, conference, rubric-ize, mark, cajole, discuss student work. I really dislike evaluating - it's so final - and it feels so much like I am putting my value on it. Ugh.

  2. Good point Iain. I wonder/worry about what happens next when a student shows no evidence on a performance task or any other classroom activity ... what immediate things do we do in response? Do we give that student another opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge/skills in another way, just in case it was the task that was the stumbling block? Do we begin remediation right away, maybe going back a step or two in the curriculum to fill in the gaps re-teaching concepts that might have been missed? (Or are we waiting for the I.E.P. to do this?) Do we then repeat the original task to see if the child can now perform the required knowledge and skills? And what then do we do with our original data describing the student's performance on the knowledge and skills being evaluated? Too many teachers are still 'averaging' leaving us with a very incomplete picture of what our students can and cannot do, not to mention giving an incomplete picture of what we as educators CAN DO to improve student success.