Individual Accountability in Group Work; Feedback Requested (or, tl;dr)

My dilemma: I love collaborative group work – I think there’s potentially a great deal of value in group projects – but I can’t always trust my students to all contribute equally. I’ve tried assigning specific roles, I’ve tried having kids sign “Equal Distribution Agreements” in which they promise to share the workload equally, and I’ve tried having kids write me reflective letters outlining their contributions and how evenly they felt work was distributed. They were all effective to a degree, but I never felt they were quite quantitative enough to justify any grade I could come up with, especially when there are conflicting reports among group members (he said, she said, etc.). I finally tried something with my most recent group project that I think worked out very well: it’s data-driven, AND it is supported by my personal observations throughout the project. Upon completion of our most recent group project, I had students fill out the following information on a half-sheet of paper (download at end of post). Above the grid, they filled in their group topic and their name. In the grid, they put every OTHER group member’s name, one to a box.

Blank Scoresheet

I then told the students that they each had 10 points to distribute among their group members, based on their individual contributions to the overall project. In a four-person group (three being rated), a fairly equal distribution of points would look like this:


If one person contributed much more than others, or if one person did not contribute as much to the group, it might look like this:


In any event, all points should add up to ten (I told them to keep their ratings whole numbers; what do I look like, a mathemagician?). In a group of 4 where work was evenly shared, a student should score anywhere between 9-12 (let’s call it 8-12 for a group of 3 or 5). To me, that’s worth an A; drop a letter grade for every point below that minimum “equal participation threshold.” It’s with that in mind that I developed the following chart:

Grade Chart

I listed the kids in a spreadsheet along with the points they earned from their group members. Add the numbers up horizontally, refer to grade equivalency chart, and assign grade.

Dummy Data

Having multiple raters for each student reduces the chances that one will suffer due to one vindictive student. KenRodoff and JackieB in the above example were each given a 2 by one of their group members, but the other ratings counteracted the one low rating and brought them both into A range.

These data also support my personal observations throughout the project. Prior to administering the survey, it seemed to me that the workload was pretty equitable, with only a few students here or there not carrying their weight. The final grade distribution for this assessment was as follows:

A: 19
B: 2
C: 1
D: 1
F: 1

Yeah, that sounds about right. I’m not concerned about the lack of a bell curve because I would rather see 79% of my students truly working collaboratively than have a majority of the class do a so-so job.

It’s not perfect, but it’s by far the most objective, data-driven approach to grading participation I’ve ever taken. I can’t take full credit for this, as I distinctly remember getting the basis for this from someone in the Twitterverse (sorry, can’t remember who), but I did flesh it out to suit my needs.

I’ll definitely be trying this again soon. As much as I love the fact that most of the work was spread around equally, part of me would like to see if the data clearly supports my observations when multiple students don’t participate.

Assessing individual contributions to large group projects has always been difficult for me, but I think I’ve got something that works now. Please feel free to download any of my materials for use with your students, and leave a comment – how do you assess individual contributions to group work? Are there any significant drawbacks to this method I might have missed?

Peer Evaluation Sheet (2 to a page) (.xls)
Peer Participation Data Entry Sheet (.xls)


  • hey damian, i really like this idea. even if it isn’t fully yours, props for sharing it!

    one flaw i wonder about, one tweak.

    flaw – what would happen once kids get used to this system? is it possible that with some student populations they’d learn to game it? prisoner’s dilemma?

    tweak – i teach middle school and we’re all about the rubrics. i think that this would fit better with some sort of descriptive rubric than with letter grades. that way, instead of topping out at an “a”, you could go more into depth with the categories. for example, in that sample chart you have it looks like mctoonish’s “a” was more deserved than those of kenrodoff or jackieb. with a descriptive rubric, you could throw some superlative adjectives at mctoonish and let krod and jackalack know that they’re not yet at the top of their game.

  • I’m all about the A’s! But honestly, you gave me a ‘1’. What’s that about?

    I’ve used something similar with my English classes, but even with this type of system, I still have kids waiting after class to complain that group members didn’t contribute equally!

    Sometimes, they just want their voices heard.

  • @ken: I’m OK with hearing kids out like that; it’s frustrating for the ones who shoulder the load, and venting and validation are good. This also gives the ones who don’t feel comfortable complaining a chance to communicate that frustration to me. As for the 1 – maybe next time you won’t ditch the work sessions to smoke behind the gym!

    @jeff: Good points – I’ve given some thought to that, and I’m not sure how the kids could “work” it unless they all conspired to screw one student, which would likely set off my BS alarm. As for the rubrics – neat idea, and I’m of two minds about it: on the one hand, allowing all the scores from 8/9 up to “pool” as an A may discourage students from taking over the project – in other words, I’d be concerned about encouraging some of the misguided overachievers to take over and not allow others to contribute (sounds weird, but I’ve had it happen before) in the name of grade hoarding. On the other hand, I could see differentiating the A grade a bit more: perhaps F, D, C, B, A-, A, A+? What did you have in mind? I’d be interested to see.

  • Damian –

    I love the use of spreadsheet for this, i’m a spreadsheet junkie, probably my accounting background 🙂 Seriously, this is an area I’ve always had a problem with as well, both as a student and a teacher. I was the student who did most of the work and often saw my group members get equally good grades – here’s me crying NO FAIR! On the other hand, maybe I was a bit controlling and didn’t LET other group members do the work b/c it wasn’t as good as what I could do? That’s what I think about when I’m watching my students work in groups and you’ve provided a great way to assess. Then there’s the next level of collaboration – the workplace……….contributions never fair and never recognized:-) Guess that’s the meaning of “there’s no I in team”? BTW, I hate that saying!

  • For someone who’s not a “mathemagician” this is pretty impressive (even if you based it off of someone else’s idea).

    In group projects in my classroom, I usually have the kids just write a sentence or two about how much each group member contributed. Of course, I don’t need to be as quantitative in elementary school.

  • This is crazy good. So good in fact, I might mod it and use it in my own classroom. Good indeed.

  • Hey, thanks for the big ups, folks; it’s very much appreciated. I’m glad folks actually read to the end!

    @kate: That sounds a lot like me – rather shoulder the load than let my grade suffer. I hate seeing it happen to my students, which is part of the impetus here. Also, since starting my grad degree, I’ve had to become more comfortable with spreadsheets, graphs, and numerical data – who knew?

    @david: I wonder if there’s a difference in how elementary & high school students view “equitable distribution.” Although they’re often justified in their grievances, sometimes they can get nitpicky as hell (e.g., “he typed one paragraph less than the rest of us”) – oy vey…

    @jose: I’d be interested to hear how you improve upon this. Drop a line to compare notes if/when you make some changes!

  • I’ve done something similar where there are forty points to distribute per group of four. I usually get the “we all did equal work”.

    I like the idea of having each person grade the group members. Will students see which peers gave which grade? Do you think this will affect how they grade each other?

    Let me know how this works for you. I may try your variation, thanks.

    Not sure what I did to get 6 points though, I think you did all of the work!

  • @jackie: Nope, this is strictly on the hush, for my eyes only. I figure it relieves a bit of the peer pressure for the kids to know they’re reporting to me and me only. Next time I use this, I’ll try to remember to post the results.

    And you got the 6 points because SOMEONE had to pick up @kenrodoff‘s slack!

  • […] Individual Accountability in Group Work (Jan 2008) It’s not perfect, but it’s by far the most objective, data-driven approach to grading participation I’ve ever taken. I can’t take full credit for this, as I distinctly remember getting the basis for this from someone in the Twitterverse (sorry, can’t remember who), but I did flesh it out to suit my needs. […]

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