Assessments are a big part of any class, but they are sometimes misunderstood. When people hear the word assessment, they think of a test. A test is an assessment, but not all assessments are tests. This is very important to remember as a teacher. There are multiple ways for a teacher to assess what a student has learned during class. That is why Project Based Learning can be a valuable tool for assessment.
When a Project Based Learning assignment is given in my class that gives students latitude to create a project that demonstrates understanding in a way that is meaningful to them, there can be a wide variety of projects that could be submitted. That leads to a common question from teachers,
"How can you equally assess a wide variety of projects?"
The answer is simple as well as a bit complicated. The simple part is rubrics. Rubrics can be written in a way that don't focus on the tools that are used to demonstrate understanding, but focus on the concepts that the students are trying to convey. That part is where things get complicated.
Rubrics are not an easy thing to throw together. I wish I had more instruction on rubric creation in college. That would have helped me so much in my journey. One of things about rubric writing that needs to be embraced is that the first few rubrics are not going to be great and you will have to get used to adjusting them to ensure they are assessing the correct things and awarding points.
One of the very first rubric creators I used was Rubistar. It allows for the creation of multiple columns and rows that can be filled with language they provide or edited language that better fits your needs. After reading a novel in one of my ELA classes, I might create a rubric that focuses on the student's ability to demonstrate understanding of themes, symbols, motifs, etc. When it came time for student presentations, it was easy to have the rubric in front of me and check off the boxes that matched how they demonstrated understanding. I would jot notes down and then discuss the rubrics with the students the next day.
I have found that as the year went on, the students became more comfortable with the rubric structure and improved their projects over time based on the feedback that was given. That growth is what you are looking for in a class and the rubrics support that growth.
In terms of adding a grade to the gradebook, assigning points to each row and column can be difficult and it is important to try and balance the rubric so one aspect does not make or break the entire project. Also, avoid adding columns/rows that focus on non-instructional issues. For example, do not award/deduct points for "neatness" or "turned in on time" or any other concept that is not about understanding the material. I created some terrible rubrics in my early PBL days that gave too many points for things that focused on the aesthetics instead of the content. Rookie mistakes I hope this post can help you avoid.
Rubrics opened up a world of communication with my students because it allowed for specific feedback that created better conversations when we were able to sit and discuss their work. The back and forth about the final project were strong because of the rubric and the fact that I was there with them throughout the process.
If you are exploring Project Based Learning and are worried about assessment, that is natural, but do not let it be the reason you do not give it a try. Below are some resources that can help you on your journey.
Resources for creating rubrics:
IUPUI - Creating and Using Rubrics - This site has a link to a bunch of other sites to support rubric writing and provide some great examples. Check this out if you are serious about using rubrics for assessment.