How Students Benefit From Project-Based Assessments (With Examples)
Project-based assessments are an alternative to tests that allow students to engage with their learning in more concrete ways. Instead of merely studying theory, a hands-on project asks students to apply what they've learned to an in-depth exploration of a topic. You can use projects as part of the ongoing learning process or as a capstone assessment in place of a traditional final exam.
Project-based assessment is often a component of project-based learning (PBL), in which the entire focus of a course or unit is to teach via student engagement in problem-solving and exploration. Like PBL, project-based assessment is student-centered and requires reflection on both the process and the content to be meaningful.
Making project-based assessment work takes careful planning and a willingness to be flexible, as no two student projects will be alike. If you'd like to try project-based assessment in your classroom, consider these best practices from the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) to make sure your assessment is both meaningful and effective:
- Allow students to choose topics, problems, and the direction of their work to make it personally meaningful.
- Be clear about the parameters of the project and your grading rubric from the outset so students—and parents—know what to expect.
- If students are working in groups, make sure you have a way to assess individual learning rather than just giving a shared grade on the final product.
- Check in with students frequently, both informally and with announced benchmarks to scaffold learning and set them up for success
How Students Benefit from Project-based Assessments
There are many ways in which project-based assessments benefit students. Below are a few key benefits.
The best projects are authentic in that they provide real-life experiences and opportunities to apply learning to areas that affect students' communities. Increasing engagement with the world around them prepares students to be good citizens in addition to making them college-and career-ready. Colleges and employers require students who can do more than just memorize subject-area information.
The best designed project-based assessments give students voice and choice; that is, students can select the work that is most meaningful to them. This increases engagement and motivation to do well and opens the door for deeper, richer learning that will stick with students for life. They also have the opportunity to share their work and develop strong communication skills in addition to standard subject-area knowledge.
Well-designed project-based assessments provide significant feedback to students about their progress along the way. Instead of waiting for the results of a single test, they can make their own goals and benchmarks to track their learning. This requires designing clear, detailed rubrics that students can use to measure their progress as they work. Informal check-ins will also help students sharpen their thinking and build confidence as they work.
Projects are the perfect opportunity for students to work together toward a common goal. Small group work is linked to better retention of information and career-readiness thanks to the "soft skills" involved in working with others regularly. Structured collaboration is key, so grades should be clearly divided between group goals and individual progress to provide an accurate measure of learning.
Because project-based learning often involves problem-solving, students develop creativity and critical thinking skills that serve them well in college and careers. Group projects in particular can boost this effect—studies have found that when students focus on overcoming conflict together instead of avoiding it, their academic and career-ready skills experience a boost. Finding innovative ways to approach a problem is great practice for applying skills in any future endeavor.
Project Based Assessment Examples
Project-based assessments can take any number of forms, so knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. Try modifying one of these examples to get inspired about the possibilities for your students:
- Design a Society: Whether you choose to develop a moon colony, a new school, or a Medieval monastery, a project that asks students to design a social living situation presents a complex problem and nearly endless ways to solve it. There are also plenty of opportunities for cross-curricular learning, depending on the aspects of the society you choose as an area of focus.
- Solve a Local Problem: Younger learners can tackle a problem as simple as making the school library easier to use for kindergartners, while older learners can work on an issue in the community at large. This type of project lends itself well to social studies and science classes, particularly when it comes to ecological issues.
- Publish Something: Working together to create a newsletter, party chapbook or collection of essays is a great way to allow students to have their voices heard. This project works in any subject and can be continued throughout the year if you choose to make several editions of a magazine or newsletter.
- Place-based Projects: Building a project around a significant location in the community is also a good jumping-off point for a project-based assessment. Place-based learning has the added benefit of getting students out into nature or other parts of the community to make connections and enrich the area for everyone.
- Get Technical: Adding technology to project-based learning provides additional motivation and increases engagement for many students. Consider designing an app, making a documentary to publish on YouTube, or designing a new social media platform that addresses a specific problem or issue relevant to your teaching.
Project-based learning and assessment are a valuable addition to learning in any subject and at any age. When you tailor the experience to your students needs and provide plenty of structure along the way, you'll allow them many new avenues for creative expression and critical thinking in addition to mastery of the subject curriculum.