Looking for tools and strategies for effective assessment in project-based learning? To support you, we've assembled this guide to helpful resources from Edutopia and beyond.
Originally Published: April 15, 2014 | Updated: January 20, 2015
Project-based learning (PBL) demands excellent assessment practices to ensure that all learners are supported in the learning process. With good assessment practices, PBL can create a culture of excellence for all students. We’ve compiled some of the best resources from Edutopia and the web to support your use of assessment in PBL, including information about strategies, advice on how to address the demands of standardized tests, and summaries of the research.
Best Practices for PBL Assessment
- 10 Tips for Assessing Project-Based Learning (Edutopia, 2011)
This comprehensive guide from Edutopia goes over many best practices for assessment, including asking students to demonstrate what they know and can do through authentic products, providing quality feedback, conducting formative assessment, and tracking progress with digital tools. Teachers can use this guide as a professional-learning tool and primer for PBL Assessment.
- Embedding Assessment Throughout the Project (Edutopia, 2014)
Assessment can be integrated seamlessly into project-based learning. In this video, find tools for measuring student understanding from the beginning to the end of a project.
- Criteria for Effective Assessment in Project-Based Learning, by Andrew Miller (Edutopia, 2011)
Miller offers tips on how to effectively assess content standards while still giving voice and choice to students. Along the way, he shares best practices for using formative assessment and ways to integrate the teaching and assessing of 21st-century skills.
- Practical PBL: The Ongoing Challenges of Assessment, by Katie Piper (Edutopia, 2012)
High School Social Studies Teacher Katie Piper gives advice on how to use assessment at various points in a PBL project, especially when challenged with assessing student teams.
- Expeditionary Assessment: PBL Lessons from Ron Berger, by Tom Vander Ark (Getting Smart, 2013)
Featured on Getting Smart, this blog about an interview with Ron Berger explains how Expeditionary Learning, a PBL school model, approaches student assessment. Berger emphasizes student ownership of the assessment process and includes several videos of sample PBL project assessments.
- How to Get High-Quality Student Work in PBL, by John Larmer (Edutopia, 2013)
Larmer gives critical advice for ensure that students not only produce high quality work in a PBL project, but also ensure that the work shows high quality learning.
- Yes, You Can Teach and Assess Creativity, by Andrew Miller (Edutopia, 2013)
Teaching and assessing 21st-century skills is a critical component of a great PBL project. Miller gives insight into assessing one of these 21st century skills: creativity!
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PBL and Standardized Tests
- The Challenge of Assessing Project-Based Learning, by Suzie Boss (District Administration, 2012)
In this article for District Administration, Boss (who is also an Edutopia blogger) tells the story of how schools are meeting the challenge of standardized tests and moving past the “bubble” exam. She shares the experiences of educators who are overcoming anxiety about new ways of assessment and embracing assessment of critical thinking and content mastery as a part of PBL.
- Rigorous Project-Based Learning Transforms AP Courses (Edutopia, 2013)
Knowledge in Action, a research project from Edutopia and the University of Washington, explores how PBL can prepare students to meet and, in many ways, surpass the standards assessed by Advanced Placement (AP) exams. It’s a great example of how well-designed PBL can assess both content learning objectives and 21st-century skills. Highlighted projects are from an AP Government class.
- AP and PBL: It Works! by Andrew Miller (2014)
Miller, challenging the assumption that PBL is incompatible with AP expectations, suggests three ways of making them more synergistic: embedding assessments within the project, using past exams for review, and targeting critical thinking.
- PBL Pilot: Matching PBL With Traditional Grading, by Matt Wyers (Edutopia, 2014)
Fifth grade teachers reflect on grading students in their PBL pilot program without traditional homework, while keeping parents informed and reconsidering the meaning of grades.
- PBL and Standardized Tests? It Can Work! by Andrew Miller (Edutopia, 2012)
Miller provides specific and practical strategies -- implementing PBL projects where they fit, targeting power standards, and unpacking the tests -- to help educators address the demands of standardized tests while still implementing great PBL projects.
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Research on PBL Assessment
- PBL Research Summary: Studies Validate Project-Based Learning (Edutopia, 2001)
This comprehensive research roundup from Edutopia cites multiple studies that show support for PBL in a variety of areas, including assessment. There are studies across the content areas, including in math and reading, and studies on technology’s impact on test scores within the context of PBL. For Edutopia’s full research review, published in 2012, including links to newer studies, check out “Project-Based Learning Research Review.”
- Knowledge in Action Research Helping to Make the Case for Rigorous PBL (Edutopia, 2013)
Winner of 2013 NCSS Award for Exemplary Research, Edutopia’s Knowledge in Action research study (featured in the video above) explored PBL implementation in AP courses. This piece tells the whole story, start to finish, with in-depth coverage of the results and research.
- BIE Research on Project-Based Learning (Buck Institute for Education)
The Buck Institute for Education has compiled, as well as conducted, comprehensive research on PBL. Many of the studies shared on this page specifically address assessment practices and results.
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- How to Use BIE’s Rubrics to Assess 21st-Century Competencies in PBL, by John Larmer (BIE’s Experts & Newbies, 2013)
Larmer introduces sample rubrics to assess 21st-century skills and tips on how to use them. Guidelines include considerations for grading or scoring, how to unpack the rubrics, and suggestions on finding evidence for competencies.
- Assessment and Project-Based Learning (Bianca Hewes, 2011)
Hewes is a well-known PBL teacher in Australia whose practical classroom reflections give teachers not only strategies and ideas, but an honest perspective. She emphasizes assessment of student learning and discusses the tension between assessment of 21st-century skills and the demands of traditional standardized tests.
- Authentic Assessment in Action, by Mark Wilbert (Edutopia 2013)
Wilbert, a high school PBL teachers, reviews principles of authentic assessment in PBL projects and gives tips that teachers can use to create their own opportunities for the same.
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We hope these resources will help you ensure that students learn both significant content and 21st-century skills through projects. Use these ideas and tools to help to alleviate any concerns you have around assessment in PBL and the design of effective PBL projects, and please share any feedback or additional resources in the comments!