Rubric Best Practices, Examples, and Templates

Instructors have many tasks to perform during the semester, including grading assignments and assessments. Feedback on performance is a critical factor in helping students improve and succeed. Grading rubrics can provide more consistent feedback for students and create efficiency for the instructor/grader.

A rubric is a scoring tool that identifies the different criteria relevant to an assignment, assessment, or learning outcome and states the possible levels of achievement in a specific, clear, and objective way. Use rubrics to assess project-based student work, including essays, group projects, creative endeavors, and oral presentations. Rubrics are helpful for instructors because they can help them communicate expectations to students and assess student work fairly and efficiently. Finally, rubrics can provide students with informative feedback on their strengths and weaknesses so that they can reflect on their performance and work on areas that need improvement.

How to Get Started

Best practices, moodle how-to guides.

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Step 1: Define the Purpose

The first step in the rubric-creation process is to define the purpose of the assignment or assessment for which you are creating a rubric. To do this, consider the following questions:

  • What is the assignment?
  • Does the assignment break down into different or smaller tasks?  
  • Are these tasks equally important as the main assignment?  
  • What are the learning objectives for the assignment?  
  • What do you want students to demonstrate through the completion of this assignment?
  • What would an excellent assignment look like?
  • How would you describe an acceptable assignment?  
  • How would you describe an assignment that falls below expectations?
  • What kind of feedback do you want to give students for their work?
  • Do you want/need to give them a grade? If so, do you want to give them a single overall grade or detailed feedback based on a variety of criteria?
  • Do you want to give students specific feedback that will help them improve their future work?

Step 2: Decide What Kind of Rubric You Will Use

Types of rubrics: holistic, analytic/descriptive, single-point

Holistic Rubric. A holistic rubric consists of a single scale with all the criteria to be included in the evaluation (such as clarity, organization, mechanics, etc.) being considered together. With a holistic rubric, the rater or grader assigns a single score (usually on a 1-4 or 1-6 point scale) based on an overall judgment of the student’s work. The rater matches an entire piece of student work to a single description on the scale.

Advantages of holistic rubrics:

  • Place an emphasis on what learners can demonstrate rather than what they cannot
  • Save time by minimizing the number of decisions to be made
  • Can be used consistently across raters, provided they have all been trained

Disadvantages of holistic rubrics:

  • Do not provide specific feedback for improvement
  • Can be difficult to choose a score when a student’s work is at varying levels across the criteria
  • Criteria cannot be weighted

Analytic/Descriptive Rubric . An analytic rubric resembles a grid with the criteria for an assignment listed in the left column and with levels of performance listed across the top row, often using numbers and/or descriptive tags. The cells within the center of the rubric may be left blank or may contain descriptions of what the specified criteria look like for each level of performance. When scoring with an analytic rubric, each of the criteria is scored individually.

Advantages of analytic rubrics:

  • Provide feedback on areas of strength or weakness
  • Each criterion can be weighted to reflect its relative importance

Disadvantages of analytic rubrics:

  • More time-consuming to create and use than a holistic rubric
  • May not be used consistently across raters unless the rubrics are well defined
  • May limit personalized feedback to help students improve

Single-Point Rubric . Similar to an analytic/descriptive rubric in that it breaks down the components of an assignment into different criteria. The detailed performance descriptors are only for the level of proficiency. Feedback space is provided for instructors to give individualized comments to help students improve and/or show where they excelled beyond the proficiency descriptors.

Advantages of single-point rubrics:

  • Easier to create than an analytic/descriptive rubric
  • More likely that students will read the descriptors
  • Areas of concern and excellence are open-ended removes a focus on the grade/points
  • May increase student creativity in project-based assignments
  • Requires more work for instructors writing feedback

Step 3: Define the Criteria

Ask yourself: What knowledge and skills are required for the assignment/assessment? Make a list of these, group and label them, and eliminate any that are not critical.

  Helpful strategies for defining grading criteria:

  • Review the learning objectives for the course; use the assignment prompt, existing grading checklists, peer response sheets, comments on previous work, past examples of student work, etc.
  • Try describing A/B/C work.
  • Consider “sentence starters” with verbs describing student performance from Bloom’s Taxonomy  or other terms to indicate various levels of performance, i.e., presence to absence, complete to incomplete, many to some to none, major to minor, consistent to inconsistent, always to usually to sometimes to rarely
  • Collaborate with co-instructors, teaching assistants, and other colleagues
  • Brainstorm and discuss with students
  • Can they be observed and measured?
  • Are they important and essential?
  • Are they distinct from other criteria?
  • Are they phrased in precise, unambiguous language?
  • Revise the criteria as needed
  • Consider how you will weigh them in relation to each other

Step 4: Design the Rating Scale

Most ratings scales include between 3 and 5 levels. Consider the following questions:

  • Given what students are able to demonstrate in this assignment/assessment, what are the possible levels of achievement?
  • Will you use numbers or descriptive labels for these levels?
  • If you choose descriptive labels, what labels are most appropriate? Will you assign a number to those labels?
  • In what order will you list these levels — from lowest to highest or vice versa?

Step 5: Write Descriptions for Each Level of the Rating Scale

Create statements of expected performance at each level of the rubric. For an analytic rubric, do this for each particular criterion of the rubric. These descriptions help students understand your expectations and their performance in regard to those expectations.

Start with the top/exemplary work category –what does it look like when a student has achieved excellence in each category? Then look at the “bottom” category –what does it look like when students have not achieved the learning goals in any way? Then add the categories in between.

Also, take into consideration that well-written descriptions:

  • Describe observable and measurable behavior
  • Use parallel language across the scale
  • Indicate the degree to which the standards are met

Step 6: Create your Rubric

  • Develop the criteria, rating scale, and descriptions for each level of the rating scale into a rubric
  • Include the assignment at the top of the rubric, space permitting  
  • For reading and grading ease, limit the rubric to a single page, if possible
  • Consider the effectiveness of your rubric and revise accordingly
  • Create your rubric in a table or spreadsheet in Word, Google Docs, Sheets, etc., and then transfer it by typing it into Moodle. You can also use online tools to create the rubric, but you will still have to type the criteria, indicators, levels, etc., into Moodle. Rubric creators: Rubistar , iRubric

Step 7: Pilot-test your Rubric

Prior to implementing your rubric on a live course, obtain feedback from:

  • Teacher Assistants

Also, try out your new rubric on a sample of student work. After you pilot-test your rubric, analyze the results to consider its effectiveness and revise accordingly.

  • Use Parallel Language . Make sure that the language from column to column is similar and that syntax and wording correspond. Of course, the words will change for each section or assignment, as will the expectations, but in terms of readability, make sure that the rubric can be easily read from left to right or vice versa. In addition, if you have an indicator described in one category, it will need to be described in the next category, whether it is about “having included” or “not having included” something. This is all about clarity and transparency to students.
  • Use Student-Friendly Language . If students can’t understand the rubric, it will not be useful for guiding instruction, reflection, and assessment. If you want students to engage in using the rubric, they have to understand it. Make sure the language is learning-level appropriate. If you use academic language or concepts, you will need to teach those concepts.
  • Use the Rubric with Your Students . You have to use the rubric with the students. It means nothing to them if you don’t. For students to find the rubric useful in terms of their learning, they must see a reason for using it. Students should understand that the rubric is there to help them learn, reflect, and self-assess. If students use a rubric, they will understand the expectations and their relevance to learning.
  • Don’t Use Too Many Columns . The rubric needs to be comprehensible and organized. Pick the right amount of columns so that the criteria flow logically and naturally across levels.
  • Common Rubrics and Templates are Awesome . Avoid rubric fatigue, as in creating rubrics to the point where you just can’t do it anymore. This can be done with common rubrics that students see across multiple classroom activities and through creating templates that you can alter slightly as needed. Design those templates for learning targets or similar performance tasks in your classroom. It’s easy to change these types of rubrics later. Figure out your common practices and create a single rubric your team can use.
  • Rely on Descriptive Language. The most effective descriptions are those that use specific descriptions. This means avoiding words like “good” and “excellent.” At the same time, don’t rely on numbers, such as a number of resources, as your crutch. Instead of saying, “find excellent sources” or “use three sources,” focus your rubric language on the quality use of whatever sources students find and on the best possible way of aligning that data to the work. It isn’t about the number of sources, and “excellent” is too vague for students. Be specific and descriptive.

Example of an analytic rubric for a final paper

Example of a holistic rubric for a final paper, single-point rubric.

essay rubric for college students

  • Single Point Rubric Template ( variation )
  • Analytic Rubric Template make a copy to edit
  • A Rubric for Rubrics
  • Single Point Discussion Rubric
  • Mathematical Presentations Descriptive Rubric
  • Math Proof Assessment Rubric
  • Kansas State Sample Rubrics
  • Design Single Point Rubric

Technology Tools: Rubrics in Moodle

  • Moodle Docs: Rubrics
  • Moodle Docs: Grading Guide (use for single-point rubrics)

Supplemental Tools with Rubrics in Moodle

  • Google Assignments
  • Turnitin Assignments: Rubric or Grading Form
  • DELTA – Rubrics: Making Assignments Easier for You and Your Students (2/1/2022)
  • DePaul University (n.d.). Rubrics. Retrieved from
  • Gonzalez, J. (2014). Know your terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics. Cult of Pedagogy. Retrieved from
  • Goodrich, H. (1996). Understanding rubrics. Teaching for Authentic Student Performance, 54 (4), 14-17. Retrieved from
  • Miller, A. (2012). Tame the beast: tips for designing and using rubrics. Retrieved from
  • Ragupathi, K., Lee, A. (2020). Beyond Fairness and Consistency in Grading: The Role of Rubrics in Higher Education. In: Sanger, C., Gleason, N. (eds) Diversity and Inclusion in Global Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

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  • Basics for GSIs
  • Advancing Your Skills

Examples of Rubric Creation

Creating a rubric takes time and requires thought and experimentation. Here you can see the steps used to create two kinds of rubric: one for problems in a physics exam for a small, upper-division physics course, and another for an essay assignment in a large, lower-division sociology course.

Physics Problems

In STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), assignments tend to be analytical and problem-based. Holistic rubrics can be an efficient, consistent, and fair way to grade a problem set. An analytical rubric often gives a more clear picture of what a student should direct their future learning efforts on. Since holistic rubrics try to label overall understanding, they can lead to more regrade requests when compared to analytical rubric with more explicit criteria. When starting to grade a problem, it is important to think about the relevant conceptual ingredients in the solution. Then look at a sample of student work to get a feel for student mistakes. Decide what rubric you will use (e.g., holistic or analytic, and how many points). Apply the holistic rubric by marking comments and sorting the students’ assignments into stacks (e.g., five stacks if using a five-point scale). Finally, check the stacks for consistency and mark the scores. The following is a sample homework problem from a UC Berkeley Physics Department undergraduate course in mechanics.

Homework Problem

Learning objective.

Solve for position and speed along a projectile’s trajectory.

Desired Traits: Conceptual Elements Needed for the Solution

  • Decompose motion into vertical and horizontal axes.
  • Identify that the maximum height occurs when the vertical velocity is 0.
  • Apply kinematics equation with g as the acceleration to solve for the time and height.
  • Evaluate the numerical expression.

A note on analytic rubrics: If you decide you feel more comfortable grading with an analytic rubric, you can assign a point value to each concept. The drawback to this method is that it can sometimes unfairly penalize a student who has a good understanding of the problem but makes a lot of minor errors. Because the analytic method tends to have many more parts, the method can take quite a bit more time to apply. In the end, your analytic rubric should give results that agree with the common-sense assessment of how well the student understood the problem. This sense is well captured by the holistic method.

Holistic Rubric

A holistic rubric, closely based on a rubric by Bruce Birkett and Andrew Elby:

[a] This policy especially makes sense on exam problems, for which students are under time pressure and are more likely to make harmless algebraic mistakes. It would also be reasonable to have stricter standards for homework problems.

Analytic Rubric

The following is an analytic rubric that takes the desired traits of the solution and assigns point values to each of the components. Note that the relative point values should reflect the importance in the overall problem. For example, the steps of the problem solving should be worth more than the final numerical value of the solution. This rubric also provides clarity for where students are lacking in their current understanding of the problem.

Try to avoid penalizing multiple times for the same mistake by choosing your evaluation criteria to be related to distinct learning outcomes. In designing your rubric, you can decide how finely to evaluate each component. Having more possible point values on your rubric can give more detailed feedback on a student’s performance, though it typically takes more time for the grader to assess.

Of course, problems can, and often do, feature the use of multiple learning outcomes in tandem. When a mistake could be assigned to multiple criteria, it is advisable to check that the overall problem grade is reasonable with the student’s mastery of the problem. Not having to decide how particular mistakes should be deducted from the analytic rubric is one advantage of the holistic rubric. When designing problems, it can be very beneficial for students not to have problems with several subparts that rely on prior answers. These tend to disproportionately skew the grades of students who miss an ingredient early on. When possible, consider making independent problems for testing different learning outcomes.

Sociology Research Paper

An introductory-level, large-lecture course is a difficult setting for managing a student research assignment. With the assistance of an instructional support team that included a GSI teaching consultant and a UC Berkeley librarian [b] , sociology lecturer Mary Kelsey developed the following assignment:

This was a lengthy and complex assignment worth a substantial portion of the course grade. Since the class was very large, the instructor wanted to minimize the effort it would take her GSIs to grade the papers in a manner consistent with the assignment’s learning objectives. For these reasons Dr. Kelsey and the instructional team gave a lot of forethought to crafting a detailed grading rubric.

Desired Traits

  • Use and interpretation of data
  • Reflection on personal experiences
  • Application of course readings and materials
  • Organization, writing, and mechanics

For this assignment, the instructional team decided to grade each trait individually because there seemed to be too many independent variables to grade holistically. They could have used a five-point scale, a three-point scale, or a descriptive analytic scale. The choice depended on the complexity of the assignment and the kind of information they wanted to convey to students about their work.

Below are three of the analytic rubrics they considered for the Argument trait and a holistic rubric for all the traits together. Lastly you will find the entire analytic rubric, for all five desired traits, that was finally used for the assignment. Which would you choose, and why?

Five-Point Scale

Three-point scale, simplified three-point scale, numbers replaced with descriptive terms.

For some assignments, you may choose to use a holistic rubric, or one scale for the whole assignment. This type of rubric is particularly useful when the variables you want to assess just cannot be usefully separated. We chose not to use a holistic rubric for this assignment because we wanted to be able to grade each trait separately, but we’ve completed a holistic version here for comparative purposes.

Final Analytic Rubric

This is the rubric the instructor finally decided to use. It rates five major traits, each on a five-point scale. This allowed for fine but clear distinctions in evaluating the students’ final papers.

[b] These materials were developed during UC Berkeley’s 2005–2006 Mellon Library/Faculty Fellowship for Undergraduate Research program. M embers of the instructional team who worked with Lecturer Kelsey in developing the grading rubric included Susan H askell-Khan, a GSI Center teaching consultant and doctoral candidate in history, and Sarah McDaniel, a teaching librarian with the Doe/Moffitt Libraries.

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15 Helpful Scoring Rubric Examples for All Grades and Subjects

In the end, they actually make grading easier.

Collage of scoring rubric examples including written response rubric and interactive notebook rubric

When it comes to student assessment and evaluation, there are a lot of methods to consider. In some cases, testing is the best way to assess a student’s knowledge, and the answers are either right or wrong. But often, assessing a student’s performance is much less clear-cut. In these situations, a scoring rubric is often the way to go, especially if you’re using standards-based grading . Here’s what you need to know about this useful tool, along with lots of rubric examples to get you started.

What is a scoring rubric?

In the United States, a rubric is a guide that lays out the performance expectations for an assignment. It helps students understand what’s required of them, and guides teachers through the evaluation process. (Note that in other countries, the term “rubric” may instead refer to the set of instructions at the beginning of an exam. To avoid confusion, some people use the term “scoring rubric” instead.)

A rubric generally has three parts:

  • Performance criteria: These are the various aspects on which the assignment will be evaluated. They should align with the desired learning outcomes for the assignment.
  • Rating scale: This could be a number system (often 1 to 4) or words like “exceeds expectations, meets expectations, below expectations,” etc.
  • Indicators: These describe the qualities needed to earn a specific rating for each of the performance criteria. The level of detail may vary depending on the assignment and the purpose of the rubric itself.

Rubrics take more time to develop up front, but they help ensure more consistent assessment, especially when the skills being assessed are more subjective. A well-developed rubric can actually save teachers a lot of time when it comes to grading. What’s more, sharing your scoring rubric with students in advance often helps improve performance . This way, students have a clear picture of what’s expected of them and what they need to do to achieve a specific grade or performance rating.

Learn more about why and how to use a rubric here.

Types of Rubric

There are three basic rubric categories, each with its own purpose.

Holistic Rubric

A holistic scoring rubric laying out the criteria for a rating of 1 to 4 when creating an infographic

Source: Cambrian College

This type of rubric combines all the scoring criteria in a single scale. They’re quick to create and use, but they have drawbacks. If a student’s work spans different levels, it can be difficult to decide which score to assign. They also make it harder to provide feedback on specific aspects.

Traditional letter grades are a type of holistic rubric. So are the popular “hamburger rubric” and “ cupcake rubric ” examples. Learn more about holistic rubrics here.

Analytic Rubric

Layout of an analytic scoring rubric, describing the different sections like criteria, rating, and indicators

Source: University of Nebraska

Analytic rubrics are much more complex and generally take a great deal more time up front to design. They include specific details of the expected learning outcomes, and descriptions of what criteria are required to meet various performance ratings in each. Each rating is assigned a point value, and the total number of points earned determines the overall grade for the assignment.

Though they’re more time-intensive to create, analytic rubrics actually save time while grading. Teachers can simply circle or highlight any relevant phrases in each rating, and add a comment or two if needed. They also help ensure consistency in grading, and make it much easier for students to understand what’s expected of them.

Learn more about analytic rubrics here.

Developmental Rubric

A developmental rubric for kindergarten skills, with illustrations to describe the indicators of criteria

Source: Deb’s Data Digest

A developmental rubric is a type of analytic rubric, but it’s used to assess progress along the way rather than determining a final score on an assignment. The details in these rubrics help students understand their achievements, as well as highlight the specific skills they still need to improve.

Developmental rubrics are essentially a subset of analytic rubrics. They leave off the point values, though, and focus instead on giving feedback using the criteria and indicators of performance.

Learn how to use developmental rubrics here.

Ready to create your own rubrics? Find general tips on designing rubrics here. Then, check out these examples across all grades and subjects to inspire you.

Elementary School Rubric Examples

These elementary school rubric examples come from real teachers who use them with their students. Adapt them to fit your needs and grade level.

Reading Fluency Rubric

A developmental rubric example for reading fluency

You can use this one as an analytic rubric by counting up points to earn a final score, or just to provide developmental feedback. There’s a second rubric page available specifically to assess prosody (reading with expression).

Learn more: Teacher Thrive

Reading Comprehension Rubric

Reading comprehension rubric, with criteria and indicators for different comprehension skills

The nice thing about this rubric is that you can use it at any grade level, for any text. If you like this style, you can get a reading fluency rubric here too.

Learn more: Pawprints Resource Center

Written Response Rubric

Two anchor charts, one showing

Rubrics aren’t just for huge projects. They can also help kids work on very specific skills, like this one for improving written responses on assessments.

Learn more: Dianna Radcliffe: Teaching Upper Elementary and More

Interactive Notebook Rubric

Interactive Notebook rubric example, with criteria and indicators for assessment

If you use interactive notebooks as a learning tool , this rubric can help kids stay on track and meet your expectations.

Learn more: Classroom Nook

Project Rubric

Rubric that can be used for assessing any elementary school project

Use this simple rubric as it is, or tweak it to include more specific indicators for the project you have in mind.

Learn more: Tales of a Title One Teacher

Behavior Rubric

Rubric for assessing student behavior in school and classroom

Developmental rubrics are perfect for assessing behavior and helping students identify opportunities for improvement. Send these home regularly to keep parents in the loop.

Learn more: Gazette

Middle School Rubric Examples

In middle school, use rubrics to offer detailed feedback on projects, presentations, and more. Be sure to share them with students in advance, and encourage them to use them as they work so they’ll know if they’re meeting expectations.

Argumentative Writing Rubric

An argumentative rubric example to use with middle school students

Argumentative writing is a part of language arts, social studies, science, and more. That makes this rubric especially useful.

Learn more: Dr. Caitlyn Tucker

Role-Play Rubric

A rubric example for assessing student role play in the classroom

Role-plays can be really useful when teaching social and critical thinking skills, but it’s hard to assess them. Try a rubric like this one to evaluate and provide useful feedback.

Learn more: A Question of Influence

Art Project Rubric

A rubric used to grade middle school art projects

Art is one of those subjects where grading can feel very subjective. Bring some objectivity to the process with a rubric like this.

Source: Art Ed Guru

Diorama Project Rubric

A rubric for grading middle school diorama projects

You can use diorama projects in almost any subject, and they’re a great chance to encourage creativity. Simplify the grading process and help kids know how to make their projects shine with this scoring rubric.

Learn more:

Oral Presentation Rubric

Rubric example for grading oral presentations given by middle school students

Rubrics are terrific for grading presentations, since you can include a variety of skills and other criteria. Consider letting students use a rubric like this to offer peer feedback too.

Learn more: Bright Hub Education

High School Rubric Examples

In high school, it’s important to include your grading rubrics when you give assignments like presentations, research projects, or essays. Kids who go on to college will definitely encounter rubrics, so helping them become familiar with them now will help in the future.

Presentation Rubric

Example of a rubric used to grade a high school project presentation

Analyze a student’s presentation both for content and communication skills with a rubric like this one. If needed, create a separate one for content knowledge with even more criteria and indicators.

Learn more: Michael A. Pena Jr.

Debate Rubric

A rubric for assessing a student's performance in a high school debate

Debate is a valuable learning tool that encourages critical thinking and oral communication skills. This rubric can help you assess those skills objectively.

Learn more: Education World

Project-Based Learning Rubric

A rubric for assessing high school project based learning assignments

Implementing project-based learning can be time-intensive, but the payoffs are worth it. Try this rubric to make student expectations clear and end-of-project assessment easier.

Learn more: Free Technology for Teachers

100-Point Essay Rubric

Rubric for scoring an essay with a final score out of 100 points

Need an easy way to convert a scoring rubric to a letter grade? This example for essay writing earns students a final score out of 100 points.

Learn more: Learn for Your Life

Drama Performance Rubric

A rubric teachers can use to evaluate a student's participation and performance in a theater production

If you’re unsure how to grade a student’s participation and performance in drama class, consider this example. It offers lots of objective criteria and indicators to evaluate.

Learn more: Chase March

How do you use rubrics in your classroom? Come share your thoughts and exchange ideas in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, 25 of the best alternative assessment ideas ..

Scoring rubrics help establish expectations and ensure assessment consistency. Use these rubric examples to help you design your own.

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Standards-Based Grading Example

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Examples of Rubrics

Here are some rubric examples from different colleges and universities, as well as the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) VALUE rubrics. We would also like to include examples from Syracuse University faculty and staff. If you would be willing to share your rubric with us, please click  here.

  • Art and Design Rubric (Rhode Island University)
  • Theater Arts Writing Rubric (California State University)

Class Participation

  • Holistic Participation Rubric (University of Virginia)
  • Large Lecture Courses with TAs (Carnegie Mellon University)

Doctoral Program Milestones

  • Qualifying Examination (Syracuse University)
  • Comprehensive Core Examination (Portland State University)
  • Dissertation Proposal (Portland State University)
  • Dissertation (Portland State University)

Experiential Learning

  • Key Competencies in Community-Engaged Learning and Teaching (Campus Compact)
  • Global Learning and Intercultural Knowledge (International Cross-Cultural Experiential Learning Evaluation Toolkit)

Humanities and Social Science

  • Anthropology Paper (Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Economics Paper (University of Kentucky)
  • History Paper (Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Literary Analysis (Minnesota State University)
  • Philosophy Paper (Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Psychology Paper (Loyola Marymount University)
  • Sociology Paper (University of California)

Media and Design

  • Media and Design Elements Rubric (Samford University)

Natural Science

  • Physics Paper (Illinois State University)
  • Chemistry Paper (Utah State University)
  • Biology Research Report (Loyola Marymount University)

Online Learning

  • Discussion Forums (Simmons College)

Syracuse University’s Shared Competencies

  • Information Literacy & Technological Agility
  • Journal Reflection (The State University of New Jersey)
  • Reflection Writing Rubric  and  Research Project Writing (Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Research Paper Rubric (Cornell College)
  • Assessment Rubric for Student Reflections


VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) is a national assessment initiative on college student learning sponsored by AACU as part of its Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative.

Intellectual and Practical Skills

  • Inquiry and Analysis (*pdf)
  • Critical Thinking (*pdf)
  • Creative Thinking (*pdf)
  • Written Communication (*pdf)
  • Oral Communication (*pdf)
  • Reading (*pdf)
  • Quantitative Literacy (*pdf)
  • Information Literacy (*pdf)
  • Teamwork (*pdf)
  • Problem Solving (*pdf)

Personal and Social Responsibility

  • Civic Engagement (*pdf)
  • Intercultural Knowledge and Competence (*pdf)
  • Ethical Reasoning (*pdf)
  • Foundations and Skills for Lifelong Learning (*pdf)
  • Global Learning (*pdf)

Integrative and Applied Learning

  • Integrative Learning (*pdf)

Assessing Institution-Wide Diversity

  • Self-Assessment Rubric For the Institutionalization of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education

Essay Rubric: Basic Guidelines and Sample Template

6 July 2023

last updated

Lectures and tutors provide specific requirements for students to meet when writing essays. Basically, an essay rubric helps tutors to analyze the quality of articles written by students. In this case, useful rubrics make the analysis process simple for lecturers as they focus on specific concepts related to the writing process. Also, an essay rubric list and organize all of the criteria into one convenient paper. In other instances, students use an essay rubric to enhance their writing skills by examining various requirements. Then, different types of essay rubrics vary from one educational level to another. For example, Master’s and Ph.D. essay rubrics focus on examining complex thesis statements and other writing mechanics. However, high school essay rubrics examine basic writing concepts. In turn, a sample template of a high school rubric in this article can help students to evaluate their papers before submitting them to their teachers.

General Aspects of an Essay Rubric

An essay rubric refers to the way how teachers assess student’s composition writing skills and abilities. Basically, an essay rubric provides specific criteria to grade assignments. In this case, teachers use essay rubrics to save time when evaluating and grading various papers. Hence, learners must use an essay rubric effectively to achieve desired goals and grades.

Essay rubric

General Assessment Table for an Essay Rubric

1. organization.

Excellent/8 points: The essay contains stiff topic sentences and a controlled organization.

Very Good/6 points: The essay contains a logical and appropriate organization. The writer uses clear topic sentences.

Average/4 points: The essay contains a logical and appropriate organization. The writer uses clear topic sentences.

Needs Improvement/2 points: The essay has an inconsistent organization.

Unacceptable/0 points: The essay shows the absence of a planned organization.

Grade: ___ .

Excellent/8 points: The essay shows the absence of a planned organization.

Very Good/6 points: The paper contains precise and varied sentence structures and word choices. 

Average/4 points: The paper follows a limited but mostly correct sentence structure. There are different sentence structures and word choices.

Needs Improvement/2 points: The paper contains several awkward and unclear sentences. There are some problems with word choices.

Unacceptable/0 points: The writer does not contain apparent control over sentence structures and word choice.

Excellent/8 points: The content appears sophisticated and contains well-developed ideas.

Very Good/6 points: The essay content appears illustrative and balanced.

Average/4 points: The essay contains unbalanced content that requires more analysis.

Needs Improvement/2 points: The essay contains a lot of research information without analysis or commentary.

Unacceptable/0 points: The essay lacks relevant content and does not fit the thesis statement . Essay rubric rules are not followed.

Excellent/8 points: The essay contains a clearly stated and focused thesis statement.

Very Good/6 points: The written piece comprises a clearly stated argument. However, the focus would have been sharper.

Average/4 points: The thesis phrasing sounds simple and lacks complexity. The writer does not word the thesis correctly. 

Needs Improvement/2 points: The thesis statement requires a clear objective and does not fit the theme in the content of the essay.

Unacceptable/0 points: The thesis is not evident in the introduction.

Excellent/8 points: The essay is clear and focused. The work holds the reader’s attention. Besides, the relevant details and quotes enrich the thesis statement.

Very Good/6 points: The essay is mostly focused and contains a few useful details and quotes.

Average/4 points: The writer begins the work by defining the topic. However, the development of ideas appears general.

Needs Improvement/2 points: The author fails to define the topic well, or the writer focuses on several issues.

Unacceptable/0 points: The essay lacks a clear sense of a purpose or thesis statement. Readers have to make suggestions based on sketchy or missing ideas to understand the intended meaning. Essay rubric requirements are missed.

6. Sentence Fluency

Excellent/8 points: The essay has a natural flow, rhythm, and cadence. The sentences are well built and have a wide-ranging and robust structure that enhances reading.

Very Good/6 points: The ideas mostly flow and motivate a compelling reading.

Average/4 points: The text hums along with a balanced beat but tends to be more businesslike than musical. Besides, the flow of ideas tends to become more mechanical than fluid.

Needs Improvement/2 points: The essay appears irregular and hard to read.

Unacceptable/0 points: Readers have to go through the essay several times to give this paper a fair interpretive reading.

7. Conventions

Excellent/8 points: The student demonstrates proper use of standard writing conventions, like spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, usage, and paragraphing. The student uses protocols in a way that improves the readability of the essay.

Very Good/6 points: The student demonstrates proper writing conventions and uses them correctly. One can read the essay with ease, and errors are rare. Few touch-ups can make the composition ready for publishing.

Average/4 points: The writer shows reasonable control over a short range of standard writing rules. The writer handles all the conventions and enhances readability. The errors in the essay tend to distract and impair legibility.

Needs Improvement/2 points: The writer makes an effort to use various conventions, including spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar usage, and paragraphing. The essay contains multiple errors.

Unacceptable/0 points: The author makes repetitive errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, usage, and paragraphing. Some mistakes distract readers and make it hard to understand the concepts. Essay rubric rules are not covered.

8. Presentation

Excellent/8 points: The form and presentation of the text enhance the readability of the essay and the flow of ideas.

Very Good/6 points: The format has few mistakes and is easy to read.

Average/4 points: The writer’s message is understandable in this format.

Needs Improvement/2 points: The writer’s message is only comprehensible infrequently, and the paper appears disorganized.

Unacceptable/0 points: Readers receive a distorted message due to difficulties connecting to the presentation of the text.

Final Grade: ___ .

Grading Scheme for an Essay Rubric:

  • A+ = 60+ points
  • A = 55-59 points
  • A- = 50-54 points
  • B+ = 45-49 points
  • B = 40-44 points
  • B- = 35-39 points
  • C+ = 30-34 points
  • C = 25-29 points
  • C- = 20-24 points
  • D = 10-19 points
  • F = less than 9 points

Basic Differences in Education Levels and Essay Rubrics

The quality of essays changes at different education levels. For instance, college students must write miscellaneous papers when compared to high school learners. In this case, an essay rubric will change for these different education levels. For example, university and college essays should have a debatable thesis statement with varying points of view. However, high school essays should have simple phrases as thesis statements. Then, other requirements in an essay rubric will be more straightforward for high school students. For master’s and Ph.D. essays, the criteria presented in an essay rubric should focus on examining the paper’s complexity. In turn, compositions for these two categories should have thesis statements that demonstrate a detailed analysis of defined topics that advance knowledge in a specific area of study.

Summing Up on an Essay Rubric

Essay rubrics help teachers, instructors, professors, and tutors to analyze the quality of essays written by students. Basically, an essay rubric makes the analysis process simple for lecturers. Essay rubrics list and organize all of the criteria into one convenient paper. In other instances, students use the essay rubrics to improve their writing skills. However, they vary from one educational level to the other. Master’s and Ph.D. essay rubrics focus on examining complex thesis statements and other writing mechanics. However, high school essay rubrics examine basic writing concepts.  The following are some of the tips that one must consider when preparing a rubric.

  • contain all writing mechanics that relates to essay writing;
  • cover different requirements and their relevant grades;
  • follow clear and understandable statements.

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Eberly Center

Teaching excellence & educational innovation, grading and performance rubrics, what are rubrics.

A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of the work associated with each component, at varying levels of mastery. Rubrics can be used for a wide array of assignments: papers, projects, oral presentations, artistic performances, group projects, etc. Rubrics can be used as scoring or grading guides, to provide formative feedback to support and guide ongoing learning efforts, or both.

Advantages of Using Rubrics

Using a rubric provides several advantages to both instructors and students. Grading according to an explicit and descriptive set of criteria that is designed to reflect the weighted importance of the objectives of the assignment helps ensure that the instructor’s grading standards don’t change over time. Grading consistency is difficult to maintain over time because of fatigue, shifting standards based on prior experience, or intrusion of other criteria. Furthermore, rubrics can reduce the time spent grading by reducing uncertainty and by allowing instructors to refer to the rubric description associated with a score rather than having to write long comments. Finally, grading rubrics are invaluable in large courses that have multiple graders (other instructors, teaching assistants, etc.) because they can help ensure consistency across graders and reduce the systematic bias that can be introduced between graders.

Used more formatively, rubrics can help instructors get a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their class. By recording the component scores and tallying up the number of students scoring below an acceptable level on each component, instructors can identify those skills or concepts that need more instructional time and student effort.

Grading rubrics are also valuable to students. A rubric can help instructors communicate to students the specific requirements and acceptable performance standards of an assignment. When rubrics are given to students with the assignment description, they can help students monitor and assess their progress as they work toward clearly indicated goals. When assignments are scored and returned with the rubric, students can more easily recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their work and direct their efforts accordingly.

Examples of Rubrics

Here are links to a diverse set of rubrics designed by Carnegie Mellon faculty and faculty at other institutions. Although your particular field of study and type of assessment activity may not be represented currently, viewing a rubric that is designed for a similar activity may provide you with ideas on how to divide your task into components and how to describe the varying levels of mastery.

Paper Assignments

  • Example 1: Philosophy Paper This rubric was designed for student papers in a range of philosophy courses, CMU.
  • Example 2: Psychology Assignment Short, concept application homework assignment in cognitive psychology, CMU.
  • Example 3: Anthropology Writing Assignments This rubric was designed for a series of short writing assignments in anthropology, CMU.
  • Example 4: History Research Paper . This rubric was designed for essays and research papers in history, CMU.
  • Example 1: Capstone Project in Design This rubric describes the components and standard of performance from the research phase to the final presentation for a senior capstone project in the School of Design, CMU.
  • Example 2: Engineering Design Project This rubric describes performance standards on three aspects of a team project: Research and Design, Communication, and Team Work.

Oral Presentations

  • Example 1: Oral Exam This rubric describes a set of components and standards for assessing performance on an oral exam in an upper-division history course, CMU.
  • Example 2: Oral Communication
  • Example 3: Group Presentations This rubric describes a set of components and standards for assessing group presentations in a history course, CMU.

Class Participation/Contributions

  • Example 1: Discussion Class This rubric assesses the quality of student contributions to class discussions. This is appropriate for an undergraduate-level course, CMU.
  • Example 2: Advanced Seminar This rubric is designed for assessing discussion performance in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar. 

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Should ChatGPT Write Your College Application Essay?

portrait of Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D.

Editor & Writer

essay rubric for college students

  • Artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT provide ready-made essays suitable for college applications.
  • Many experts believe bot-generated results aren't good enough for top colleges.
  • In light of the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, essays discussing diversity should appear personal and authentic.
  • Few universities have admissions policies related to AI content, and those that do exist vary considerably.

Applying to college can be stressful , and many students claim the personal essay causes the most anxiety along the way.

What if there were a way to simplify the essay process, a shortcut easing the burden of putting pen to paper, metaphorically speaking, and drafting ideas to tell your story?

Well, we all know that shortcut exists in the form of artificial intelligence (AI), most notably ChatGPT and its mind-boggling ability to crank out copy on demand in record time.

But will using AI yield the best results? Is it even ethical? And can admissions officers recognize AI-written content? What happens if they do?

Greater Focus on Essays Following SCOTUS Decision

The essay has long been an important component of the college application, enabling students to complement the more quantitative measures such as grades and standardized test scores with personal statements of interests, abilities, and passions.

Yet now, thanks to June's landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious admissions, the application essay has taken center stage .

In the court's 6-3 decision that banned affirmative action, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested students could still use application essays to address their racial identity.

"At the same time, nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected the applicant's life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university," Roberts wrote.

A later clarification, however, rendered this loophole somewhat confusing. Roberts insisted that "universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today."

As such, the essay cannot become a proxy for the racial "checkbox" universities use to identify race in the strictest sense, but it can help provide an opportunity for students to address "challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned."

The court's ruling, along with the somewhat ambiguous language pertaining to essays, left college officials in a fog of uncertainty with little time to prepare for the upcoming admissions season. Now that it's here, the looming specter of illegality collides with emerging AI technology that offers exciting new opportunities but scares the bejesus out of people.

At that intersection lies the application essay.

Are AI-Generated Application Essays Any Good?

By most accounts, the answer is no, but the technology does provide some useful results.

It's certainly tempting to test drive the technology, feeding it essay prompts to see what it spits out. A number of folks have tried it and chronicled the results.

Writing in New York magazine , Sanibel Chai, a college admissions consultant, recounts her experience trying to determine if ChatGPT would render her services superfluous. Over several drafts, she fine-tuned her essay by prompting the bot to provide additional details and adjust the tone.

Her conclusion? It's perfectly competent and certainly quick. But it offers "banal reflections" and "empty-sounding conclusions," lacking originality and sounding exactly like something someone else could have written. Chai believes her job is safe for now.

Likewise, Adam Nguyen, who runs Ivy Link, a college counseling and test-prep service, found ChatGPT essays "pretty good" but also "pretty average." The grammar and syntax are sound, perhaps a step beyond what the typical high school student might create. But it produces generic details and lacks "layers of thought."

Nguyen says it's fine to use ChatGPT to generate a first draft, but the hard work of editing is left to the student, especially one eyeing a highly competitive college.

"You are not going to get into a top 30 school, definitely not a top 20, with a GPT-generated essay," Nguyen commented in the Observer .

Kevin Wong, co-founder of the tutoring service PrepMaven, reached the same conclusion.

"Admissions officers are looking for genuine emotion, careful introspection, and personal growth," he told Business Insider . "The ChatGPT essays express insight and reflection mostly through superficial and cliched statements that anyone could write."

Lest we assume this is the work of a lesser bot, Natasha Singer experienced similar results using HuggingChat and Google's Bard , two ChatGPT competitors.

"High school seniors hoping to stand out may need to do wholesale rewrites of the texts they prompt AI chatbots to generate," Singer wrote in The New York Times . "Or they could just write their own — chatbot-free — admissions essays from scratch."

The imperative to be authentic rings especially true for students wading tentatively through the opaque waters of diversity statements.

Writing in The Atlantic, Matteo Wong contends that "high schoolers trying to navigate the nebulous admissions process may feel pressure to write as plainly as possible about how their race and experiences of racism make them better applicants."

To satisfy admissions offices, he suggests, students will reduce their experiences to "easily understood types," offering "tired platitudes about race."

That's exactly the kind of content chatbots produce, essays that will likely fail to persuade admissions officers seeking a more personal exploration of how race shaped experiences and formed character.

Chatbots Help Level the Playing Field

At the same time, chatbots lend a guiding hand often absent for low-income and underserved students. Some public schools lack sufficient college counseling services often found at private schools or publics in wealthier towns. At inner-city schools, guidance counselors are tasked with serving too many students to provide individual attention.

Certainly most such students don't have access to the aforementioned college admissions and essay-writing tutors, who charge $300 per hour or more and, one might assume, cater to a wealthier clientele.

That's where AI can step in and begin to bridge the gap. Singer, of The New York Times, found Khan Academy's AI tool, Khanmigo , especially effective in helping users brainstorm and appropriately personalize and frame their essays.

"If there's a way this tool can help those that have a different starting point catch up, or narrow those discrepancies, I think that shows a lot of promise," Juan Espinoza, director of undergraduate admissions at Virginia Tech, told the Times.

Rick Clark, assistant vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech, concurs.

"Here in the state of Georgia, the average counselor-to-student ratio is 300 to 1, so a lot of people aren't getting much assistance," Clark told The Guardian . "This is a real opportunity for students."

Few Universities Have Policies Around AI in Admissions

To date, only a handful of universities have published guidelines regarding the use of AI tools when applying for admission. And they vary.

At Clark's Georgia Tech, the admissions office acknowledges AI tools are " powerful and valuable " but warns students not to simply submit the raw results of their prompts.

"We believe there is a place for them in helping you generate ideas," Georgia Tech's website clarifies, "but your ultimate submission should be your own."

In a similar vein, Columbia Business School permits the use of AI tools for ideation but warns students that any work submitted not "exclusively your own" results in a violation of the university's honor code.

Among law schools, Arizona State University (ASU) now allows students to use ChatGPT on applications to its Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, embracing the technology instead of avoiding it.

"Generative AI is a tool available to nearly everyone, regardless of their economic situation, that can help them submit a strong application when used responsibly," ASU said in a press release .

At the same time, the University of Michigan Law School has banned the use of AI tools on applications, requiring students to certify that they have not used them. Any false statements in that regard could lead to an admission offer being revoked or even expulsion.

Proving such violations, however, is another matter.

"Will I be able to enforce it? No," Sarah Zearfoss, Michigan's senior assistant dean, told Reuters . "But in general, I'm relying on the honor of the people who apply in a million different ways, so this is no different."

Savvy admissions officers might suspect chatbot-generated copy when they encounter it, but do they have the necessary tools to confirm their suspicions?

Not exactly. Admissions offices do use AI tools for a variety of tasks, including sorting applications according to grades and test scores, but filtering essays through an AI-detector isn't yet common practice.

Could a tool such as Turnitin provide a solution? The company introduced its AI-detector last spring, allowing professors to check student submissions for bot-produced content. Thus far, the tool isn't set up to work with admissions offices.

"We are digging around to see if any institutional admissions office has their own license, but it seems doubtful," Jennifer Harrison, a public relations professional who represents Turnitin, told BestColleges in an email. "Educators access Turnitin via their [learning management systems]. We are not certain that an admissions office would have access to an LMS. The workflow would be completely off. Admissions essays are submitted in an entirely different way."

For universities intent on banning the use of AI in essay writing, finding a tool to detect such submissions seems like an urgent task. No doubt enterprising tech companies will soon step into the breach and fill that void.

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People make their way through the University of California, Los Angeles, campus.

D.E.I. Statements Stir Debate on College Campuses

Yoel Inbar, a psychology professor, thought he might be teaching at U.C.L.A., but his reservations about diversity statements got him in trouble.

Diversity statements are a new flashpoint in campus debates over race, just as the Supreme Court has driven a stake through race-conscious admissions. Credit... Alisha Jucevic for The New York Times

Supported by

Michael Powell

By Michael Powell

  • Sept. 8, 2023

Yoel Inbar, a noted psychology professor at the University of Toronto, figured he might be teaching this fall at U.C.L.A.

Last year, the university’s psychology department offered his female partner a faculty appointment. Now the department was interested in recruiting him as a so-called partner hire, a common practice in academia.

The university asked him to fill out the requisite papers, including a statement that affirmed his belief and work in diversity, equity and inclusion. He flew out and met with, among others, a faculty diversity committee and a group of graduate students.

Dr. Inbar figured all had gone well, that his work and liberal politics fit well with the university. Some faculty members, he said, had even advised him on house hunting.

But a few days later, the department chair emailed and told him that more than 50 graduate students had signed a letter strongly denouncing his candidacy. Why? In part, because on his podcast years earlier, he had opposed diversity statements — like the one he had just written.

Not long after, the chair told Dr. Inbar that, with regret, U.C.L.A. could not offer him a job.

Diversity statements are a new flashpoint on campus, just as the Supreme Court has driven a stake through race-conscious admissions. Nearly half the large universities in America require that job applicants write such statements, part of the rapid growth in D.E.I. programs. Many University of California departments now require that faculty members seeking promotions and tenure also write such statements.

Supporters of affirmative action protest near the U.S. Supreme Court building. They are holding signs that say “Defend Diversity.”

Diversity statements tend to run about a page or so long and ask candidates to describe how they would contribute to campus diversity, often seeking examples of how the faculty member has fostered an inclusive or antiracist learning environment.

To supporters, such statements are both skill assessment and business strategy. Given the ban on race-conscious admissions, and the need to attract applicants from a shrinking pool of potential students, many colleges are looking to create a more welcoming environment.

But critics say these statements are thinly veiled attempts at enforcing ideological orthodoxy. Politically savvy applicants, they say, learn to touch on the right ideological buzzwords. And the championing of diversity can overshadow strengths seen as central to academia, not least professional expertise.

“Professions of fealty to D.E.I. ideology are so ubiquitous as to be meaningless,” said Daniel Sargent, a professor of history and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “We are institutionalizing a performative dishonesty.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of Berkeley’s law school and a free-speech scholar, describes much of the criticism as an attack on diversity, even as he acknowledges that the requirement could be misused.

The point of the statements, he said, is to push applicants to think through how they can reach students. “I’ll tell you, the professors who don’t recognize the diversity in their classrooms are going to struggle,” he said. “Some of the best teachers are quite politically conservative, but they’re still aware of who’s in the classroom.”

The debate occurs as D.E.I. officials and programs of all kinds have become a powerful presence on campuses. Universities have hired hundreds of administrators, who monitor compliance with hiring goals and curricular changes, and many departments write a variation on a D.E.I. policy.

The faculty senate at the University of California, San Francisco, urged professors to apply “anti-oppression and antiracism” lenses to courses. The public affairs school at the University of California, Los Angeles, pledged on its website to “ decolonize the curriculum and pedagogy,” and the medical school vowed to dismantle systematic racism in its coursework.

The faculty senate of the California Community Colleges, the largest higher-education system in the country, has instructed its teachers on their obligation “to lift the veil of white supremacy” and “colonialism.”

Conservative Republican politicians demonstrated their disdain, and brought the power of the state to bear. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed bills shuttering campus D.E.I. offices. Florida barred curriculums that teach “identity politics” and theories of systematic racism, sexism and privilege.

Seven states, including North Dakota and Florida, have made requiring diversity statements illegal, according to a tracker by The Chronicle of Higher Education. And dissenting faculty members have filed several lawsuits. With the help of the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation, John D. Haltigan, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, filed a lawsuit in May against the University of California that said such a statement is a “functional loyalty oath” and would make his job application futile, violating his rights under the First Amendment.

How It Started

A decade ago, California university officials faced a conundrum.

A majority of its students were nonwhite, and officials wanted to recruit more Black and Latino professors. But California’s voters had banned affirmative action in 1996. So in 2016, at least five campuses — Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside and Santa Cruz — decided their hiring committees would perform an initial screening of candidates based only on diversity statements.

Candidates who did not “look outstanding” on diversity, the vice provost at U.C. Davis instructed his search committees, could not advance, no matter the quality of their academic research. Credentials and experience would be examined in a later round.

The championing of diversity at the University of California resulted in many campuses rejecting disproportionate numbers of white and Asian and Asian American applicants. In this way, the battle over diversity statements and faculty hiring carries echoes of the battle over affirmative action in admissions, which opponents said discriminated against Asians.

At Berkeley, a faculty committee rejected 75 percent of applicants in life sciences and environmental sciences and management purely on diversity statements, according to a new academic paper by Steven Brint, a professor of public policy at U.C. Riverside, and Komi Frey, a researcher for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which has opposed diversity statements.

Candidates who made the first cut were repeatedly asked about diversity in later rounds. “At every stage,” the study noted, “candidates were evaluated on their commitments to D.E.I.”

According to a report by Berkeley, Latino candidates constituted 13 percent of applicants and 59 percent of finalists. Asian and Asian American applicants constituted 26 percent of applicants and 19 percent of finalists. Fifty-four percent of applicants were white and 14 percent made it to the final stage. Black candidates made up 3 percent of applicants and 9 percent of finalists.

Brian Soucek, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, and a leading academic defender of D.E.I. policies, sat on a hiring committee during this time and described the searches as “a partially successful experiment.”

“People realized that the traditional order of reading applications need not be set in stone,” he said in an interview.

By 2020, however, top officials at Berkeley concluded the hiring experiment had gone too far. That February, a vice provost sent a carefully worded letter to search committee chairs. Diversity statements, he wrote, should not be treated as a political litmus test or as the sole factor.

“The university is to evaluate candidates on multiple dimensions” including research, he wrote.

Many departments now twin diversity and research statements and often include teaching statements. But the diversity statement, professors and administrators say, remains a critical piece.

The New D.E.I. Standards

These new expectations upended Dr. Inbar.

He favored affirmative action. But five years ago, he questioned diversity statements in a podcast — “Two Psychologists, Four Beers,” that he hosted with another academic. He described the statements as “value signaling” that required applicants to demonstrate allegiance to a particular set of liberal beliefs.

“It’s not clear that they lead to better results for underrepresented groups,” he said.

On another episode in 2022, he noted that a professional society of psychologists officially opposed a Georgia law banning abortion. He favors abortion rights but argued that professional associations represent members of many ideological shades and should avoid taking political stances.

All of this angered the graduate students. “His hiring would threaten ongoing efforts to protect and uplift individuals of marginalized backgrounds,” the students wrote . They argued he was not committed to a “safe, welcoming and inclusive environment.” The students sent the letter to the entire psychology faculty and posted it online.

Dr. Inbar’s research in moral intuition and judgment, the students added, lacked proper grounding in the progressive politics of identity. The faculty was split; at least one member of the search committee argued the views expressed on the podcast were unacceptable.

But a professor in social psychology at U.C.L.A., Matthew Lieberman, noted in a Substack essay that Dr. Inbar’s credentials were easily “above threshold” for a hire.

Dr. Inbar was not offered a faculty position, he wrote, “because he publicly questioned” diversity statements. Dr. Lieberman acknowledged that he wrote the essay with some hesitancy. He did not personally have a problem with the statements, and he worried that his students might question his support of diversity.

In an email to Dr. Inbar, Annette L. Stanton, chair of U.C.L.A.’s psychology department, expressed disappointment she could not offer him a job. “There is no doubt that unusual events occurred surrounding your visit,” she wrote.

“I felt as if I had been ambushed,” Dr. Inbar said in an interview. “It felt a lot like an ideological screening to weed out people with beliefs seen as objectionable.”

Professor Stanton did not reply to an interview request, and university officials declined to discuss Professor Inbar’s case.

The U.C.L.A. press office stated only that “faculty hiring at U.C.L.A. follows a rigorous process.”

The A-Plus Diversity Statement

No objections were raised by Dr. Inbar’s diversity statement in his job application. But according to the scoring rubrics used by the University of California, Dr. Inbar’s spoken reservations about diversity statements would not have passed muster.

Many University of California campuses post their scoring methods online. These are widely used but not mandatory, and make clear which answers by an applicant are likely to find disfavor with faculty diversity committees.

An applicant who discusses diversity in vague terms, such as “diversity is important for science,” or saying that an applicant wants to “treat everyone the same” will get a low score.

Likewise, an applicant should not oppose affinity groups divided by race, ethnicity and gender, as that would demonstrate that the candidate “seems not to be aware of, or understand the personal challenges that underrepresented individuals face in academia.”

To argue that diversity statements politicize academia and impose a point of view is also a mistake, according to the faculty diversity work group at Santa Cruz. “Social justice activism in academia seeks to identify how systemic racism and implicit bias influence the topics we pursue, the research methods we use, the outlets in which we publish and the outcomes we observe.”

A cottage industry has sprouted nationally and in California to guide applicants in writing these statements. Some U.C. campuses post online reading lists of antiracist books and examples of successful diversity statements with names redacted.

The entire process has long troubled a number of senior faculty members at Berkeley. “If you write: ‘I believe that everyone should be treated equally,’ you will be branded as a right winger,” Vinod Aggarwal, a political science professor at the university, said in an interview. “This is compelled speech, plain and simple.”

Professor Soucek, at Davis law school, said ideological diversity is not the point.

“It’s our job to make sure people of all identities flourish here,” he said. “It’s not our job to make sure that all viewpoints flourish.”

To Dr. Inbar, that is a hazy distinction. He said that he appears to have been denied a job at U.C.L.A. not because he was insensitive to campus diversity but because he expressed qualms about diversity statements. He remains at the University of Toronto. His girlfriend has delayed her decision for another year.

“Your ability to mentor students from a diverse background is absolutely a relevant question,” he said. “But this felt like they used it as an ideological filtering mechanism and that should be a red flag.”

Vimal Patel contributed reporting.

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated Vinod Aggarwal’s title. He is a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, not the chair of Asian studies.

How we handle corrections

Michael Powell is a national reporter covering issues around free speech and expression, and stories capturing intellectual and campus debate. More about Michael Powell



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