Types of rubrics: Primary Trait and Multiple Trait
trait scoring, as
developed by Lloyd-Jones and Carl Klaus (Lloyd-Jones,
1977) was designed to evaluate the primary language function
or rhetorical trait elicited by a given writing task or prompt.
"Primary trait assessment in its initial formulations focused
on the specific approach that a writer might take to be successful
on a specific writing task; every task required its own unique scoring
2000, p. 4). In its original form, primary trait scoring would
be strictly classified as task-specific, and performance would be
evaluated on only one trait, such as the "Persuading an audience"
example from Tedick
(2002, p. 36) for a task requiring learners to write a persuasive
letter to the editor of the school newspaper:
Fig. Fx. Primary Trait: Persuading an audience
Fails to persuade the audience.
Attempts to persuade but does not provide sufficient support.
Presents a somewhat persuasive argument but without consistent development and support
Develops a persuasive argument that is well developed and supported.
Today, you may find that primary trait rubrics vary markedly from their original design and intended use. Applebee notes: "Over the years as primary trait approaches were used more widely, they evolved into a more generic approach which recognized the similarities in approach within broad uses or purposes. The basic question addressed in scoring, however, remained, 'Did the writer successfully accomplish the purpose of this task?' To insure that raters maintained this focus, scoring guidelines usually instructed raters to ignore errors in conventions of written language, and to focus on overall rhetorical effectiveness" (p. 4). Primary trait scoring can be used with speaking tasks as well as with assessments of the interpersonal and presentational modes.
If you search the Web for primary trait rubrics, you will occasionally find examples that include several traits rather than the one main criterion for successful communication within a specified rhetorical or functional domain (e.g., SUNY Oswego, Which type of rubric is best? Fig. 3). In the Virtual Assessment Center, we adopt the distinctions outlined by Tedick (2002) and refer to task-specific scoring grids with more than one dimension as multiple trait, or multitrait, rubrics.
When would you use primary trait rubrics in the classroom? They provide minimal feedback to learners, and it probably would not be fair to base important decisions like grades on whether or not learners perform well on just one criterion. One scenario might be to use primary trait rubrics in formative assessments designed to determine how well learners perform a particular language function they have been working on in class. For example, if several lessons have been devoted to working on descriptive language, a culminating writing task might be scored solely on its effectiveness as a description.
Multiple trait rubrics. Hamp-Lyons (1991) coined the term multiple trait scoring for rubrics that she designed, based on the concepts of primary trait scoring, to provide diagnostic feedback to learners and other stakeholders about performance on "context-appropriate and task-appropriate criteria" for a specified topic/text type. She designed her multiple trait rubrics to be applicable across a range of similar tasks. Currently, multiple trait (or multitrait) rubrics are commonly considered to be task-specific, although one or more of their dimensions might also be found in generic, analytic rubrics. Many examples of rubrics of this type that you may find on the Web or in other resources often accompany a given task, and may not be readily applicable to other tasks without adaptation. Figure Fy illustrates a task and multitrait scoring rubric from a resource for language teachers (Petersen, 1999).
Multiple trait rubrics look like analytic rubrics in that performance is evaluated in several categories, and, in practice, you may find the terms used interchangeably. However, analytic rubrics usually evaluate the more traditional and generic dimensions of language production, while the criteria in multiple trait rubrics focus on specific features of performance necessary for successful fulfillment of a given task or tasks.
- The rubrics are aligned with the task and curriculum.
- Aligned and well-written primary and multiple trait rubrics can ensure construct and content validity of criterion-referenced assessments.
- Feedback is focused on one or more dimensions that are important in the current learning context.
- With a multiple trait rubric, learners receive information about their strengths and weaknesses.
- Primary and multiple trait rubrics are generally written in language that students understand.
- Teachers are able to rate performances quickly.
- Many rubrics of this type have been developed by teachers who are willing to share them online, at conferences, and in materials available for purchase.
- Information provided by primary trait rubrics is limited and may not easily translate into grades.
- Task-specific rubrics cannot be applied to other tasks without adaptation of at least one or more dimensions.
Next: Creating rubrics