Assessing individual effort in group projects

2697196419_49448046dc_zIf your students were leafcutter ants, it would be easy to tell which were doing a fair share of group work.  You could easily see who was marching to the communal fungus compost farm with small bits of leaves and who was carrying enormous pieces of leaves.

But the distribution of labor is a lot fuzzier in your classroom.  You have educated guesses about who is pulling their weight in a group project and who isn’t but you don’t really know because the dynamics are somewhat hidden.

In a recent issue of Technology and Engineering Teacher, a Purdue University professor and former middle and high school technology teacher describes a free online survey tool ( that middle school and high school teachers can use to evaluate individual effort in group projects.

The Comprehensive Assessment for Team-Member Effectiveness (CATME) allows students to rate their own contribution to a group project and to anonymously rate anonymously the contributions of each of their team members.  They also rate their peers on how well they communicate and cooperate with other group members.  Did they ask for input or show an interest in teammates’ ideas and contributions? Did they respect and respond to feedback from teammates? Or did they interrupt, ignore, boss, or make fun of others in their group?

Teachers may set up a free account to begin using CATME.  Students need an email account and access to a computer to complete the surveys.They receive an email and follow the embedded link to create a password and take the survey.  CATME allows students to practice on a fictitious team with a fictitious scenario before rating their team members.  Students hover with their mouse over each member’s name and choose a description that fits the peer’s behavior on the team.

CATME asks students to rate their peers on 5 aspects of good teamwork.  The behaviorally anchored rating scale describes behaviors that are typical of various levels of performance in each of the 5 categories.

  • Contributing to the team’s work
  • Interaction with teammates
  • Keeping the team on track
  • Expecting quality
  • Having relevant knowledge, skills and abilities

CATME can be used as a formative assessment tool as well as a summative assessment tool, the researcher writes.  Students can compare their self-assessments of their contributions with their teammates’ ratings of them. This often leads to dialogue with teammates. Students can use this information to change their behavior and improve their performance.  CATME even makes specific recommendations to students on how they can improve based on the ratings they’ve received from their peers.

“Often highly motivated students see less motivated students who are not contributing and feel a sense of frustration.  They feel that their hard work is ‘pulling along’ the slackers in the team,” writes Nathan Mentzer.  “This sense of frustration can result in a desire to do all the work (so that it is done correctly), which alienates the lower-performing students and makes the situation worse.

“These challenges can discourage collaborative learning and result in a traumatic experience for all, including the teacher.”

Paper-and-pencil surveys are significantly more time-consuming than CATME, which is all done online, the researcher writes.  When the researcher was prepping for a college-level design course he taught in the fall of 2012, he realized he would need an efficient peer assessment process.  About 300 students enrolled in his class for both semesters that academic year. Since the course would be conducted as a series of ongoing group projects, he searched for a peer assessment online tool that would cut down on paperwork and help him better evaluate individual effort.

A CATME algorithm generates a contribution score that the author used to adjust group grades based on individual performance.

Mentzer says he found CATME to be a very fast and efficient mechanism for administering peer feedback. He surveyed 200 of his college students at the conclusion of the semester to ask how peer evaluation impacted their contributions. More than half indicated that it was beneficial while 2% voiced concerns about the fairness of peer evaluation, citing potential bias, and 3% mentioned that it created a negative culture, including fear.

Teachers who want to use peer evaluation as a measure of assessment need to educate students at the beginning of  team project about expectations that all team members will contribute and be held accountable and that they will interact appropriately with teammates and help to keep the team on track, the researcher writes.

 “Holding students accountable in team projects,” by Nathan Mentzer, Technology and Engineering Teacher, November 2014.

3 Responses to “Assessing individual effort in group projects”

  1. Antonia R. Gil

    A very useful tool to help teachers keep a track on students progress and to better assess their needs as seen from their classmates.

  2. sdrake

    I would like to be able to access the Comprehensive Assessment for Team Member effectiveness (CATME) Can you help me? Thanks, Susan

    • Diana

      Hi Susan,

      A faulty link in the article was just corrected You can access the Comprehensive Assessment for Team Member effectiveness (CATME)here: You must request a faculty account before using CATME.


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