Teachers: If you give group work, please let us assess our group members

November 17, 2022 — by Sarah Zhou
Photo by Leyna Chan
No caption necessary.
Group projects, especially those where groups are not self-selected, often result in one person doing all the work without an outlet to claim credit.

Group quizzes, group tests, group essays, group projects, group labs and group performances — the list of collaborative assignments goes on and on. Almost every student has shared the experience of having to participate in group work where work becomes unevenly distributed, with some students essentially lifting heavy weights while others barely offer to pick up a feather.

Even when students have the rare opportunity to select their own groups, they might be in a class where they don’t have many friends or might severely underestimate how unproductive their friends are. 

This issue has a simple solution. Teachers: Please attach a peer evaluation to every group project — self-selected group or not. Students don’t care that working in teams is a real-world life skill. In the real world, no one really cares about your high school Pre-Calculus grade or English 10 grade; yet, here we are. 

While the fairness of group projects can be improved by introducing peer evaluations, group assessments should be eliminated entirely. The entire point of a test or essay is to assess what each student has learned in a class — not what a group of students can do. After all, AP tests do not encourage you to seek advice from the person next to you on how to solve an integral or how to write your argumentative essay. So while some group work every so often can be fun and a nice change of pace, assessment should ultimately be at the individual level. 

Although group essays theoretically allow a wide range of ideas to flow together into one, supposedly cohesive masterpiece, it usually does not turn out that way — supplementing class with discussions and questions prior to essays is a more effective way for students to gain exposure to various perspectives in their writing.

While group assessments supposedly alleviate stress on students through collaboration, teachers often hold higher expectations for group assessments than they do for individual assessments. If group members have different skill levels or varying degrees of competence, the person putting in more effort might receive a lower grade than what they would have received on an individual assessment.

Even though having some form of group project allows students to develop effective communication skills and better planning and time management skills, tasks such as group tests, group quizzes or group essays are way too problematic to produce consistently fair results. 

In classes such as AP U.S. History and AP U.S. Government & Politics, students are provided with scoring sheets for themselves and their peers or “self-evaluations” with the intention of informing their teacher of each group member’s contributions to the project.

Although some students — usually those who did not do their fair share of work — might exaggerate their contribution on these evaluations, teachers often have a good sense of each student’s actual work and can sense when one person has not contributed enough. At the very least, students who did go above and beyond have an opportunity to voice their complaints (without seeming like a tattle tale) so projects can be improved in the future in terms of equal participation from all group members.

Generally, the cons of group projects outweigh the benefits, and students are often left stressed and frustrated when forced to participate in them, especially when they don’t even have a chance to claim credit for their own work. Even though having some form of group project allows students to develop effective communication skills and better planning and time management skills, tasks such as group tests, quizzes or essays are way too problematic to produce consistently fair results.

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