George Lucas Educational Foundation

How is PBL graded?

How is PBL graded?

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I am new at teaching or facilitating PBL. I have been taught and trained through college and my career the traditional ways of teaching. Therefore, I am used to grading practically all work that is turned in. I need to get away from that. So, my question is how? How do I grade PDL projects? How do I monitor progress throughout projects besides through informal observations? Do you give a grade for the finished work and their work habits (behavior)? I have a ton of questions when it comes to PBL. Me along with the rest of the 6th grade team is moving to a new 21st Century building Jan. 4th 2010(equiped with more up-to-date technology capabilities) and are being asked to teach PBL. I have so many ideas, but how do I hold each student accountable (grading) when so many will be at different spots in their learning? I teach in a rural, low income community and have 116 students. Three quarters of my students are Hispanic and many are transient, which makes record keeping more difficult. Please give me any suggestions or examples of how you do this. Any help is greatly appreciated!

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Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher


First, congratulations on moving to PBL! I really think you and your students are going to enjoy it! I work with students in a low income, urban area with "learning disabilities" and those who are "mentally gifted". Both groups really enjoy PBL.

I used rubrics. I would make the rubric before students started on the project, usually having them give input on what should be included. This way, the expectations are clear up front and students know what they should do to be successful.

I've used Rubistar ( a free on-line rubric maker. They have templates you can use and modify or you can make one on your own from scratch.

Recently, I've gone to a simpler 4-point rubric that I read about in a book from ASCD. It's really simplified my life! 4-above target/expectations, 3-on target/expectations, 2-below target/expectations, 1-off target/expectations. It's a lot simpler and makes grading quick and easy! It's also simple for students to follow. Again, I lay out the requirements before they begin the project so they know what is expected.

I don't grade everything but I do assess what students so through things like observations, discussions, writings, exit slips, etc. It helps me know where students are, what I need to review, and helps keep them on track.

I LOVE projects and, if I could, would use them all the time rather than traditional "tests". My school has moved to an inclusion model with co-teaching, so I don't do much of the planning any more. I'm hoping as we grow in this new venture, I'll be able to give more input.

I hope this gives you a something to begin with. I'm more than happy to talk more about it with you!


Thomas Gaffey's picture
Thomas Gaffey
Math and Technology educator from School of the Future in Philadelphia.

Hey Melissa,

I have been experimenting with PBL for 3 years now and I could write an entire book on my failures. Assessment and grading is by far the biggest hurdle (IMHO). I am trying to make my idea come alive currently which is based off my experiences as an engineer. First I need to say that I think traditional forms of grading are unfair students and actually hurt lower performing students in the long run. I hate percentage based grading with a passion. I agree with Erika that rubrics are a good place to start.

My idea is to organize projects like they would be of you were a project manager at an engineering design firm. You have a list of things you need to complete and a list of deliverables. Each item must be completed in order for your project to be complete. This framework includes both project work and discrete content work. Each item is weighted the same and is assessed based on a rubric. I actually dont give homework although i do say things like "if you dont finish this section in class then do it at home for tomorrow." These assignments are fairly large and they take a few days to complete. They include notes digital resources and the assignments.

The project finishes with a POU (performance of understanding) which is also based on a rubric. The project then becomes a series of artifacts that can be compiled into a portfolio. This portfolio will contain evidence of discrete content standards and any thematic essential questions.

I have yet to make this model happen exactly the way I envision it but each time I try it I get closer and closer.

My To Do List:
Narrative based assessments
Include competencies in the rubrics
Develop a regular method of delivering feedback that isnt ridiculously time intensive on my part.
Get better at creating all materials for a project before it starts.

I hope this helps. I believe in what I am trying to do and I would love to get people to try it and offer their own expertise and experiences.

Good luck


Kim's picture

Hi Melissa!
I have discovered that inquiry circles are a close cousin to PBL, and lend themselves nicely to assessments. Check out "Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action" by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels. I just finished reading it and this book is rich with discussion on how to create groups and then keep students accountable and engaged by using individual as well as group output assessments/rubrics. It also has some really great ideas for English Language Learners along with lots of tips on dealing with typical group issues, behaviors, etc.
I highly recommend it for teachers of all grade levels!
Kim :)

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