Assessment of Cooperative Learning

Initial Publication Date: December 11, 2006

Assessment activities can be categorized as either formative or summative, both of which are appropriate for cooperative learning exercises as they provide opportunities to enhance key components of cooperative learning exercises such as positive interdependence and individual accountability (which is one of the five key elements of cooperative learning).

  • Formative assessment activities are used to provide feedback, evaluating learning progress in order to motivate students to higher levels.
  • Summative assessment activities are used to judge final products for completion, competency and/or demonstrated improvement.
Nearly any evaluation can be developed to fulfill either formative or summative assessment goal. For example, written reports can include a revise and resubmission process which provides students with feedback on which aspect of their work is in need of improvement prior to evaluation of the final product.

Assessment activities can be implemented at different stages of the cooperative learning exercise and can be conducted by either the instructor, the student, or group peers.

Timing of Assessment Activities

Pre-Exercise Assessment

Developing assessment strategies that are implemented before the exercise is to take place are most appropriate when cooperative learning exercises are more complex, time intensive, and make use of more sophisticated content. The success of such exercises hinges, in part, on the preparation of students and pre-exercise activities can provide a signal as to the importance and complexity of this work to students.
  • "Tickets to participate" are a form of assessment that requires individual students to complete a task prior to the start of the cooperative learning exercise. The purpose of these assignments are to prepare students, focusing their attention on content relevant to the exercise and reducing the likelihood of unprepared students. Those who fail to complete the assignment are placed in a group together and required to complete the exercise. In all likelihood, such unprepared students will create output that is of lower quality than their otherwise prepared peers resulting in a valuable lesson learned.

Assessment During the Exercise

Assessment can occur at either the individual or group level during the cooperative learning exercise, facilitated through careful monitoring and intervention or by a formal break in the exercise with all groups checking in on their progress.

Assigning roles to group members, such as summarizer, reflector, elaborator, and/or recorder/secretary provides a more formal mechanism for evaluating the progress of the group.

It is also possible to make individual accountability part of your group-work monitoring by periodically requesting random student reports or oral exams (graded at the instructor's discretion).
  • When setting up groups, have the students within each group count off. So in each group, one student has the number "1," another the number "2," and so on.
  • At an appropriate point in the exercise, walk up to a group and pick a number at random and that person must report on the group's progress or answer a question about what the group is doing.

Post-Exercise Assessment

In order to make sure that all students are working towards the same standards, it is helpful to provide a detailed description (possibly a rubric or checklist) of how the project will be graded. (Find more information about developing rubrics)
  • Individual accountability: In many or most cooperative learning classes, students still take individual tests or quizzes (in part to make sure that everyone is doing the reading). Group projects can also result individual products. With the peer review method, for example, the paper is the responsibility of the author, and sometimes the reviewers comments on their own are also subject to grading. (Learn more about using peer review)
  • Group accountability: Gradable group products include presentations, posters, and papers.

Who Conducts the Evaluation?


Evaluation by the instructor provides students with feedback on the understanding of content, concepts, and applications. It is the most traditional of all formats and typically is the primary basis for evaluation.

Individual, Self-Assessment

Students can develop a better understanding of their learning process, a metacognitive perspective which enhance future learning, through active reflection on their achievements. Such assessments also build writing and speaking skills as students demonstrate their knowledge of the subject, problem solving skills, and contributions to group processing.


Allowing the opportunity for group members to assess the work of their peers provides important feedback on the relative merits of contributions and promotes cooperation as students realize their accountability to the group. A word of caution is appropriate, however, as the peer review process is complex, it relies on well-defined criteria and evidence-building that is clearly understood by all participants. (Learn more about using peer review)