RITG Blog Tool Exploration

Teaching with Sakai’s Rubrics Tool

Have you been overwhelmed with endless piles of papers or other assignments to grade? Are you looking for a useful and reliable assessment tool? Do you have a list of the pain points that your students repeatedly stumble over? If this sounds familiar to you, consider using the Sakai Rubrics tool. Rubrics can facilitate your grading process, provide a clear guideline of your learning objectives and expectations, and may even help improve student learning and faculty teaching. 

Rubrics Uses at Pomona 

During the Summer 2021 Sakai upgrade, Pomona College implemented the new Rubrics tool, which faculty have long been asking for. With the help of a well-designed rubric, faculty can follow consistent criteria for grading, and students can adjust the quality of their work to align with faculty expectations. This Sakai tool provides a variety of ways to design and utilize rubrics, and many faculty have already begun leveraging it. Since its implementation, 26 instructors across the consortium have created 131 different rubrics, and 41 distinct course sites have used the Rubrics tool, including Anthropology, Astronomy, Biology, Economics, English, Government, History, Music, Psychology, Philosophy, and more. 

Rubrics Tool Features 

The Sakai Rubrics tool has a grid format that consists of Criteria, Ratings, Points, and Descriptions. The listed Criteria present the intended learning objective(s), while Ratings are related to the level of performance in the given Criteria. Points are assigned to the levels of Ratings. Finally, Descriptions are detailed expectations of the Criteria and Ratings. Combined, the rubric’s features can help increase grading transparency and fairness, support faculty’s informative and ongoing feedback to students, keep the focus on learning objective(s), provide clear guidelines for students, help students plan and manage their time, and improve student self-assessment and quality of work (Panadero & Jonsson, 2013; Andrade & Du, 2005). The picture below illustrates the structure of the sample rubric with 3 Criteria, 3 to 5 possible Ratings for each Criteria, and the appropriate Points and Descriptions listed for each Rating. 

Sakai Rubric Layout
Table 1: Sample Sakai rubric with the key features

It is worth mentioning that Sakai Rubrics are tied to a site as opposed to a user. However, Sakai allows users to share their rubrics with others by clicking on the “Share” icon. This way, faculty/staff can reuse their rubrics on other sites. 


Criteria describe the learning goal(s) to achieve on a specific assessment. They are defined mostly as one- or two-word categories, such as “Citation” and “Data Analysis,” and can include a detailed description. Within the Sakai rubrics currently in use across the Claremont Colleges, the number of Criteria ranges from 1 to 10 per rubric depending on the complexity of the learning goal. As shown in Graph 1, most rubrics in Sakai today have between 2 and 8 Criteria, but some of them list even 9 or 10 for fine-tuned learning outcomes.  

Pro Tip: A good target number of Criteria is between 2 and 7. Rubrics with too many Criteria may be difficult for faculty to apply and for students to discern the main learning goals.  

Bar graphs indicating number and frequency of criteria
Graph 1: Claremont Colleges Sakai Rubrics – Range of Criteria
Bar graphs indicating number and frequency of ratings
Graph 2: Claremont Colleges Sakai Rubrics – Range of Ratings


Rubric Ratings vary by Criteria but are usually depicted as an incremental or decremental scale that specifies the progression (e.g., exemplary, meets, progressing, needs improvement). Across the consortium, there are currently 2,332 Ratings with anywhere from 1 to 7 levels as shown in Graph 2. Graph 2 also indicates that among those rubrics, the majority of the Criteria have 2 to 4 levels of Ratings, and most Ratings are defined using short evaluative language (e.g., poor, fair). 


Points are the values assigned to each Criterion in the rubric, broken down respectively by Ratings. Sakai allows faculty to assign different Points, including decimals, to each Criterion and Rating based on importance. For example, faculty can assign the criterion “Content” a maximum of 10 points and “Mechanics” 3 points. Faculty can also choose if they want to manually adjust scores after selecting Ratings


The main purpose of the Rubrics tool is to “support learning and to align learning with grading” (Brookhart, 2018). To that end, the Descriptions feature is very important as it makes Rubrics more descriptive rather than simply evaluative. With Descriptions, faculty can pinpoint the key concepts and expectations and help reduce students’ common, avoidable mistakes. Some of the current consortium rubrics include very detailed Descriptions. For example, an essay assignment with the criterion “Organization” has the following description: “Writing style flows and is easy to follow, with logical sequences and clear transitions; sentences are clear and to the point; almost entirely free of spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.” Graph 3 below shows that half of the rubrics currently in use across the consortium have Descriptions for Criteria and Ratings. Studies reveal that students’ performance can be improved when the learning expectations are clear (Andrade & Du, 2005). Thus, rubrics with well-described Criteria and Ratings hold the most potential to promote students’ learning. 

Bar Graph of Sakai Rubrics with and without Descriptions on Criteria and Ratings
Graph 3: Claremont Colleges Sakai Rubrics – Description vs. No Description by Type

Using Rubrics with other Sakai Tools 

Another feature that makes the Sakai Rubrics tool extremely useful is that it can be used in conjunction with several other Sakai tools. Rubrics can be associated with Assignments, Forums, Gradebook, and Tests & Quizzes items. The process for associating an item with a rubric is slightly different for each tool, but the important steps are basically the same. For more information about attaching rubrics to each tool, visit the following Sakai Help pages: 

The grading process is the highlight of the Rubrics tool. Once faculty have a rubric set up and attached to an assessment, they simply look at each Criterion and choose the appropriate Rating. The rubric automatically calculates the total based on the selections. In addition, faculty can override the Points, as mentioned, and also leave comments for each Criterion. As a result, the Rubrics tool simplifies the grading process significantly, making feedback faster, easier, and more consistent. Here are some Sakai Help pages detailing the rubric grading process for each major Sakai assessment tool: 

As of today, consortium faculty have 362 rubrics attached to other Sakai tools. Tests & Quizzes account for the most coming in at 160 rubrics. Then 149 rubrics are attached to Assignments, 38 to Gradebook, and the last 15 to Forums

Sample Rubrics 

The instructional benefits of using rubrics include more efficient and transparent grading, clearer learning objectives, and promotion of equity and fairness. However, studies also show that creating a well-designed, valid, and reliable rubric can be challenging (Reddy & Andrade, 2010). Fortunately, there are many diverse resources for designing rubrics:  


A major part of RITG’s job is listening to user feedback, whether it comes from faculty, staff, or students, and using the feedback to improve the teaching and learning experience in our community. That often involves supporting users by handling tickets. Sometimes, it means introducing the right tools that our users have been looking for. We are super excited to be bringing you the new Rubrics tool, and we believe this tool has great potential to improve the teaching and learning experience. Furthermore, feedback is an incredible resource that helps us all make positive changes in our work. We’re ready to listen, and we look forward to receiving your feedback so that we can make sure we go beyond your expectations. 


Andrade, H., & Du, Y. (2005). Student perspectives on rubric-referenced assessment. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 10(3), 1-12.  

Brookhart, S. M. (2018). Appropriate criteria: Key to effective rubrics. Frontiers in Education, 3,(22), 1-12.  

Panadero, E., & Jonsson A. (2013). The use of scoring rubrics for formative assessment purposes revisited: A review. Educational Research Review, 9, 129-144.  

Reddy, Y. M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(4), 435-448.