George Lucas Educational Foundation

What's in your project assessment toolkit?

What's in your project assessment toolkit?

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For an upcoming guide for Edutopia, I'm looking for suggestions and resources that help with PBL assessment. Most of us appreciate the value of rubrics and scoring guides for end-of-project assessment, but I'm curious to learn what else is in your toolkit for meaningful assessment. For example: What are your favorite strategies for formative assessment? How does assessment change at different stages of a project? How do you help students evaluate their own progress? What helps with assessing teamwork and collaboration in PBL? How do you incorporate feedback from outside experts about student performance or portfolios? Thanks for sharing your ideas!

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Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Hi Amy,
Thanks so much for sharing your terrific suggestions for formative assessment. I especially like your use of experts at the stage where their advice can help shape a project. Do you also engage experts at the end of a project, for a showcase-type event?
And great suggestion to have teachers reflect (on blogs) throughout the project, right alongside students.
Who else has real-world assessment tips to share?

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

For formative assessment, I charge each team with providing regular feedback electronically - including what's working and what's not and what's planned for the immediate future. This provides me with a snapshot of what feedback I need to provide, what to do electronically, and what maybe needs classroom attention.

In terms of team contribution assessment, I do a few things. I have each student complete a self-evaluation as well as one for each team member - midway through the project and at the end. By the way, I also assign each team a task to develop a "Team Performance Agreement" or contract on how the team will operate at the start of the project. There is no right or wrong TPA though I often suggest more effort be made; they become the starting point for team problem discussions. And by the way, at the end of the project, they each grade themselves and each team member; these grades are used to adjust the team portion of the grades in a zero-sum approach.

As for grading the group report, I use a rubric (including what would bring a poor or high score on each portion) that is shared with the students prior to starting the project.

While I taught at the college level, I have shared materials and procedures with K-12 teachers who report success as I have experienced it.

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Hi John,
Thanks for sharing these field-tested suggestions. I especially like your use of team contracts--both as a way to jump-start collaboration and as a tool for assessment.
I'm curious about the electronic tools you use for feedback. A range of tools could work, from email to blogs to collaborative workspaces. Any recommendations based on your experience?

James Rocco's picture
James Rocco
Forensic Science Teacher (11th-12th grade/Pittsburgh, PA (Penn Hills HS)

Within our forensic science class, I have had a tough time making certain that all students stay on task during the collaborative work. One way to motivate their level of engagement is to include formative assessments that are challenging, rewarding and punitive. I will simply have "Cash Cab" moments. Our students are aware of the Discovery Channel show and can relate to the consequences (especially getting kicked out on the curb). Our students will make their way to the main lab desk, answer a question and receive all of the points or none of the points for their effort. The consquences of the all or nothing 'Cash Cab' moment increases their focus in our lab. Very few, if any students, get kicked out on the curb! Its challenging, stressful and great fun. Try it!

Mike Reilly's picture

My primary task is teaching various software packages to students, a "sampler", but also project management. Like a corporate environment, I really push team planning, and I sit with each team every couple of days for a status update. After some Q&A time, I tell them their "grade", and why, and what they should do to improve. I print out a class roster with lots of space on it, write down the date and title for the evaluation, and keep a lot of those sheets for reference if there are any questions.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

In our Critical Skills Program (, we ask folks to first gain clarity about what the work should like like when it's done well (form criteria), what it should demonstrate the student knows well (content criteria), and what the student should demonstrate while engaged in the work (process criteria). Sometimes Quinn's Six Questions ( folks get clarity on these. If at all possible, we ask them to co-create the Quality Criteria with their students (to increase student ownership of the product, content and process). By revisiting the QC, students and teachers gain important formative feedback about what needs to happen next. We also encourage teachers to use a variety of reflective techniques (written, verbal and non-verbal) to help students self-assess in each of the three areas.

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

We use a lot of digital portfolios with things like LiveBinder and we are looking into Google's new digital portfolio app for next year for our formative assessments. For ongoing assessment, students meet with their teacher twice a quarter. At each meeting, the teacher fills out a review form and the student fills out a review form. They compare the forms and look for commonalities and areas of disagreement. Students truly guide their learning in this process. In the end, they have a full, rich body of work to share from their projects. This is such a great forum topic! I'm conducting a poll at my website for what my next free podcast should address. I'll definitely add the assessment piece to whichever category is chosen!

Shane Krukowski's picture
Shane Krukowski
Project Foundry Guru

Piggybacking on what Amy said above regarding narrative reflections, individual student time logs along the way provide opportunities for real conversations in addition to practicing the skill of writing articulate, active statements. They are difficult at first to get started with students, but with consistency and use in ending presentation materials, become easier than one thinks. The practice instills a discipline for lifelong reflection and parallels many real-world situations (eg- consulting).

Ahead of the project work, a commonly understood pre-proposal/preliminary research step goes a long way to seeding student interest and ensuring project ideas don't become too gangly. From my experience, the most challenging piece of doing this is fending off our desire as adults to push the students to where we want them to go just because we have the answers. However, this initial back and forth (similar to the contracting idea mentioned above) provides a number of opportunities to reinforce best research techniques. Likewise, the process values the creative, non-binary process.

Another simple, yet powerful formative feedback loop is what we at PBLS call result forms (aka- reflective yes checks). Essentially product reflections, these simple forms reiterate common expectations for common deliverables (e.g.- video, presentation, research paper) combined with relevant reflective questions (e.g.- Who is/was your target audience?). What's great about a tool like Project Foundry is you can easily collect these overtime and then say search for all my presentation results and have an authentic summative conversation how about how a student's reflection regarding presentations has or has not evolved.

Lastly, there is a missed opportunity for formative assessment when student work is just passively turned in. Students should be responsible for scheduling time with the project finalization (eval team or whatever you may call it) and completing their self-assessment rubric. In addition to this shifting to more student-centered education, it also provides subtle places for more formative feedback and provides a more student involved final evaluation since they as assumed in the process have an active role. Easier said then done in silo 50 min classrooms of course, but common in many of the PBL schools we work with.

Hilary Reilly's picture

I always provide a rubric to the students at the beginning of the project/activity/lab. I discuss the categories and explain why each of them is important to this assignment. I offer to modify, add or delete categories if the class agrees to do so. Once the assignment begins, I keep one rubric for myself and leave one in the student folder/binder. When I facilitate their work, I carry a colored highlighter and I highlight each student's copy of the rubric, indicating the progress I have viewed thus far (in addition to my own copy). The next time that I visit the group, I use a different colored highlighter. Sometimes I provide students in the group with a highlighter and ask them to evaluate each others progress. When the assignment is complete, students view their improvement over time and the progress that they have made.

I have taken the time to create rubrics that are generic enough to use repeatedly over the course of the year. As a result, students use the same rubrics repeatedly, not only becoming familiar with the evaluative criteria, but also identifying their own strengths and weaknesses. This "helps me" to "help them" focus on areas that require improvement. I also need to note that in doing so, I never penalize a student for lower scores the first time that they use a rubric. The first rubric becomes their baseline. All I ask is that they demonstrate progress over time.

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