How to Integrate Assessment Best Practices into Project-Based Learning

Building Blocks of PBL

The Building Blocks of PBL Video is available for viewing

Lesson Plan Check List for PBL

Jennifer Pieratt, author of Project-Based Learning: Assessment and Other Dirty Words, presents Six Competencies are the building blocks of Project-Based Learning in the video The Building Blocks of Project-Based Learning. Additionally, tips are offered regarding integrating assessment best practices into projects.

The deeper learning framework includes six competencies essential to prepare students to achieve at high levels. Six Competencies are:

  1. Master core academic content
  2. Think critically and solve complex problems
  3. Work collaboratively
  4. Communicate effectively
  5. Learn how to learn
  6. Develop academic mindsets

Core academic content serves as the foundation for deeper learning, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary fields which combine various areas of study. Students should be encouraged to engage actively in their learning journey, immersing themselves in a challenging curriculum that allows them to develop new knowledge, apply what they have learned, and use this as the basis for further exploration.

Start With the “End in Mind

Pieratt (2018) suggests that Backward Design, an approach in which one plans with the desired outcomes in mind, is a common best practice for teaching. This type of practice is based on developing and using baseline understanding of knowledge within academic disciplines, as well as transferring this knowledge to other situations. According to the author, “High-quality PBL is grounded in these same foundations:” (pg. 2)

  • Begin by deciding what the final product will be.
  • Ask what knowledge students will need to master.
  • Determine what skills students will need to develop to complete this final product.

Teachers must clearly identify the project content requirements and any district or school performance assessments to be included, to ensure students acquire the necessary content knowledge and skills.

Build Your Rubric: Summative Assessment Tool

When content and skills have been established, students must master the project. To ensure this, Pieratt suggests utilizing expert tools to construct your rubric based on expert tools, instead of creating one from scratch. An example of this can be found in the following:

Pieratt advises to analyze the rubric of websites and select two to three rubrics that illustrate the advanced 21st-Century skills and knowledge in your project.

Building Rubric Rows

According to Pieratt (2018), one can create a summative assessment tool with rubrics by copying and pasting descriptors from expert rubrics into a document, then adding language from content standards or district assessment tools to the rest of the rows. An example of this can be found in PBL lessons done with Boeing, which all include rubrics in the teacher materials.

Engineering Design Process Video


Benchmarks are the digestible chunks that break down your project and allow students to provide you with deliverables they reflect on and formatively assess, using 1-2 rows from your rubric. Sample benchmarks for a Public Service Announcement are listed below.

Benchmark Image
Benchmark Example

Calendar It Out

Pieratt (2018) suggests “Once you’ve identified your benchmarks, you know the project milestones, which will allow you to develop a project calendar for planning logistics. But more importantly, it will allow you to cross-check that you are formatively assessing and providing formal feedback to students at multiple points throughout the project. This step is critical in high-quality PBL, because it serves as a “safety net” to ensure that students are mastering content before moving forward. For more on formative assessment, check out Tch’s Formative Assessment Deep Dive.” (pg. 4) (To access Teaching Channel’s Formative Assessment Deep Dive video you need to subscribe to their membership)

Pieratt (2018) says “This step also affords you the opportunity to re-teach if needed, and better differentiate teaching and learning throughout the project process. Assessing and receiving feedback multiple times in a project allows students to fully develop their content mastery and skills, therefore moving to the right columns on your rubric.” (pg. 4)


When you embrace the assessment best practices into Project-Based Learning, it truly allows students to have ownership over their learning. When we’re upfront with students about what we expect from them (through tools such as rubrics), learning doesn’t feel like a mystery.

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