Faculty Focus


Making Peer Assessment Work for You

“We cannot assume … that students will learn how to become better group members simply by participating in group activities.” Diane Baker (reference below) makes this observation in a first-rate article on peer assessment in small groups. Here’s a sampling of the ideas, information, and resources included in her article.

Based on an extensive review of the literature in which Baker analyzed published peer-rating forms, she found that most included one or more of these eight categories.

  • Attended group meetings on time and did not leave early
  • Was dependable, as in met deadlines
  • Submitted quality work or made high-quality contributions to the group
  • Completed a fair share of the group’s work
  • Cooperated and communicated with other group members, sharing information and listening
  • Helped resolved interpersonal or group conflict
  • Made cognitive contributions using knowledge and skills to help the group accomplish its goals
  • Helped establish group goals and monitored progress as the group worked to achieve them

Appendices to this article contain two sample peer-evaluation instruments developed by the author. They are noteworthy because Baker assessed their validity and reliability empirically. One is long and detailed, providing students the kind of specific feedback that can be very helpful in their development as effective group members. The other is much shorter. Her statistical analysis revealed that “there are few meaningful differences between the short and long rating forms with respect to reliability, relationship to individual performance and grade outcomes.” (p. 195)

The article also covers a variety of issues related to grading when peer assessments are involved. “When peer evaluations are used for development or to inform grading decisions, instructors have an obligation to ensure fairness.” (p. 199) One such issue involves leniency, which becomes more serious when students give everyone in the group the same scores. Baker cites one study that found that students did this 26 percent of the time.

To encourage students to take the peer assessment process seriously, Baker suggests placing an honor pledge at the bottom of the evaluation. There is a sample provided on the short form. It includes a place for the student’s signature.

This is one of those truly superb articles. It contains a wealth of information, including a lengthy list of references. Regular readers know that this endorsement appears rarely: if you collect good resources on teaching (which, of course, you should) this is an article that belongs in your collection.

I’m making this recommendation based on the quality of the article. Baker offers another reason: “An instructor has many choices with respect to peer assessment tools and processes. To increase learning and ensure fair grading, decisions about peer assessment should be made intentionally, with a clear understanding of the goals of the course and the objectives of group assignments.” (p. 200)

Reference: Baker, D. F. (2008). Peer assessment in small groups: A comparison of methods. Journal of Management Education, 32 (2), 183-209.

Adapted from Peer Assessment: Making It Work Well in Small Groups, The Teaching Professor, December 2008.