Grading and Group Work: How Do I Assess Individual Learning When Students Work Together?

Grading and Group Work: How Do I Assess Individual Learning When Students Work Together?

Grading and Group Work: How Do I Assess Individual Learning When Students Work Together?

Grading and Group Work: How Do I Assess Individual Learning When Students Work Together?


Group work is a growing trend in schools, as educators seek more complex, more authentic assessment tasks and assign projects and presentations for students to work on together. The Common Core State Standards call for increased student collaboration in various subject areas, and collaboration is considered one of the 21st century skills that students need to master in order to succeed in school and beyond. Many teachers, though, are uncomfortable giving group grades, which may or may not actually reflect an individual student's learning. How else to proceed? Assessment expert Susan M. Brookhart offers practical advice, strategies, and examples to help teachers understand the following:

• What the differences are between group projects and cooperative learning.

• How to assess and report on (but not grade) learning skills and group interaction skills.

• How to assess and grade individual achievement of learning goals after group projects.

• Why having students work together is a good thing--but group grades are not.


The students in Ms. Smith’s 5th grade science class are investigating the effect of watering schedules on the germination and growth of lima bean plants. Working in five groups of four, students develop hypotheses, design and set up experiments, collect data, create tables and graphs depicting their results, and draw conclusions. As a culminating task, each group writes a report and briefly presents its findings to the class. Ms. Smith then leads a class discussion examining the similarities and differences among the groups’ work and reviewing what everyone has learned.

Now it’s time for grading. But how, exactly, should Ms. Smith grade her students on this project? If grades are merely intended to reflect what students do, then she can just give higher grades to the more cooperative and industrious groups and lower grades to the less cooperative and industrious groups. But cooperativeness and industriousness are process skills. Granted, we want students to learn those skills, and many report cards provide ways for teachers to appraise them. Nevertheless, subject-matter or standardsbased grades are supposed to reflect what students learn (Brookhart, 2011; O’Connor, 2009). And what students learn should be based on the learning outcomes reflected in the standards or curriculum goals that form the foundation for both instruction and assessment.

Many teachers struggle with the tension between the need to have students work and learn together and the need to provide grades for individual students. Communication and collaboration have always been important learning skills, and they are especially crucial in the 21st century (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011). Cooperative learning is an effective instructional method for a wide variety of learning goals and is one of the best examples to date of the application of educational psychology to educational practice (Johnson Johnson, 2009).

Many teachers use group work in a general sense, assigning students to collaborate in groups on projects that result in one undifferentiated product. But true cooperative learning requires individual accountability. No matter what kind of cooperative learning or group work you employ, it is important not to give group grades (Brookhart, 2011; Kagan, 1995; O’Connor, 2009; Wormeli, 2006).

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.