The Pitfalls of Grading Group Assignments

(By Julie Zhu)
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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dear Extra Credit:

What about the advantages and disadvantages of group assignments, in which everyone is graded according to the final result, not his or her individual contribution?

Time and again, my daughter has been the person who kept such a group project on track, edited team members' work and pulled it all together and submitted it, in addition to writing her section. I do see the value of learning to work in groups, because we so often do in real life. But what is the value of grading on a group report, beyond the obvious one of giving kids an incentive to turn it in?

It seems to me to result in some kids getting a grade based on others' efforts, and some kids getting dragged down when others won't do their share. In the workplace, I find it's usually known and acknowledged who did good work and who didn't pull their weight, but not in schools.

Debbie Stein

Montgomery County

You insightful letter warms my reportorial heart, because it forced me to stir myself and check the facts, producing what is, for this column, big news. According to Montgomery County schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison, group grades have not been a recommended practice for several years. Of course, teachers are used to doing what they think best. My big scoop is that as of July 1, this expectation has been added, in writing, perhaps with italics, in the county grading regulations. The new language says: "Grades must be based on individual demonstration of skill and understanding."

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