Best Practices for Assessing Group Work

Wendy A. Crocker, PhD
November 2015

Assessment begins with considerations of course design

Effective assessment practices are part of larger considerations of course design

There must be alignment between course outcomes, assessment, and teaching and learning practices (including resources, classroom teaching, and group tasks; Biggs, 2003)

If an instructor is considering group work as an assessment for a course, there must be a connection to the course outcomes and Big Ideas (McTighe, & Wiggins, 2013) as well as course content that scaffolds performance expectations

The ways in which students will be assessed (e.g., weighting, rubrics) must be given to students with the performance task


Errors in course design cannot be corrected in assessment



Considerations for Group Work

Importance of group learning

Group work is viewed as a valuable learning method, however, problems in the assessment of group tasks is the central challenge to this strategy (e.g., Davies, 2005; Maiden & Perry, 2011)

Small group learning contributes to greater retention (Davies, 2005)

Group work contributes to students learning to function as a group member (Lopez-Real & Chan, 1999) and collaborative problem-solving skills (e.g. Maiden & Perry, 2011)

Students learn professionally related interactive skills (e.g. Davies, 2005; Fellenz, 2006)

Challenges with group work

Commonly reported problems are: the lack of fairness in assessing  individual contributions to the group product (e.g. Falchikov & Goldfinch, 2000; Lejk & Wyvill, 1997); weighting of group process vs. group product marks (e.g., Fellenz, 2006; Falchikov & Goldfinch, 2000); the reliability of peer evaluations (e.g. Fellenz, 2006; Falchikov & Goldfinch, 2000); and management of non-contributing students (e.g., Davies, 2005; Maiden & Perry, 2011)

Group performance must be translated into individual grades – which raises issues of fairness and equity. Complicating both these issues is the fact that neither group processes nor individual contribution are necessarily apparent in the final product. Thus, the instructor needs to find ways of obtaining that information.

Assessing Group work

In considering how a group task correlates with course outcomes, instructors must look at the skills needed to complete the task and not simply the accurate representation of content

Group tasks must be assessed for both process and product i.e. systematic check-ins over time before the final submission; self and peer assessment at key points in the creation of the group response; several assessments comprising the final grade for the task including self, peer, and instructor

Ask students to assess their own contribution to the project using self-assessment tools that focus on the process skills emphasized in the course outcomes (e.g., respectful listening to and considering opposing views or a minority opinion; effectively managing conflict around differences in ideas or approaches; keeping the group on track both during and between meetings; promptness in meeting deadlines; and appropriate distribution of research, analysis, writing.)


In addition to evaluating the work of the group as a whole, hold individual members of the team accountable by including independent write-ups, weekly journal entries, or content quizzes

Ask team members to complete a group processes evaluation form on skills such as: effort, participation, cooperativeness, accessibility, communication skills. A peer assessment (where each group member completes an assessment on each of the other group members) can provide important information about the dynamics within the group and the contribution of individual members.

Information can also be gathered from assessors beyond the immediate classroom (i.e. in the context of a public review of student presentations) and considered as part of the final grade. Feedback from external clients can address product (“Does it work?” “Is it a good solution/design?”) or process (based on the client’s interaction with the group and its ability to communicate effectively, respond appropriately, or meet deadlines).

Converting assessment to grades is a challenge. Consideration must be given in advance (e.g., when the task is assigned and rubric is shared) to who is grading, or if both instructor and student assessments contribute to the final grade, the weighting of each must be clearly understood

Approaches to grading group work

  1. Instructor Assessment of Group Product
  2. Student Assessment of  Group Product


Grading methods for group work from Carnegie Mellon:

Developing group tasks:


Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for Quality Learning at University – What the Student Does  (2nd Ed) Buckingham, UK:  Open University Press

Davies, W. M. (2009). WM. Group work as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions. Higher Education 58 pp 563–584 

            DOI 10.1007/s10734-009-9216-y


Falchikov, N., & Goldfinch, J. (2000). Student peer assessment in higher education: A Meta-analysis comparing peer and teacher marks. Review of Educational Research 7

            pp 287-322


Fellenz, M.R. (2006). Toward fairness in assessing student groupwork: A protocol for peer

             evaluation of individual contributions. Journal of Management Education 30(4) 570

             DOI: 10.1177/1052562906286713


Lejk, M. & Wyvill, M. (1997). Group learning and group assessment on undergraduate computing courses in higher education in the UK: Results of a survey.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 22(1) pp 81-92.


Lopez-Real, F. & Chan, T.R. (1999). Peer Assessment of a Group Project in a Primary      Mathematics Education Course. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education  24(1) pp 67-79.  htpp://


Maiden, B. & Perry, B. (2011). Dealing with free-riders in assessed group work: results from a study at a UK university. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 36(4) pp 451–464. DOI: 10.1080/02602930903429302

McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2013). Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding.

              Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development