Asee peer logo

Using Standards-based Grading to Effectively Assess Project-based Design Courses

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

DEED Melange

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1345.1 - 24.1345.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

visit author page

Dr. Sara Atwood is an Assistant Professor of Engineering and Physics at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, where she teaches mechanical engineering and design courses. Her research interests include recruitment and retention of women in engineering, K12 outreach, and creativity as a factor in the success of engineering students. She received her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley and her BA in Engineering Sciences from Dartmouth College.

visit author page


Matthew T. Siniawski Loyola Marymount University

visit author page

Dr. Matthew T. Siniawski is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA. He teaches the senior capstone design project courses and has recently begun mentoring students on the design of assistive devices for children with disabilities. One of his research interests lies in understanding how these Learning Through Service projects impact participating engineering students and community partners. He is also interested in researching classroom-based pedagogies of engagement and developing a standards-based grading system for engineering project courses.

visit author page


Adam R. Carberry Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Adam R. Carberry, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University in the Fulton Schools of Engineering. He earned a B.S. in Materials Science Engineering from Alfred University, and received his M.S. and Ph.D., both from Tufts University, in Chemistry and Engineering Education respectively. Dr. Carberry was previously an employee of the Tufts’ Center for Engineering Education & Outreach and manager of the Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program (STOMP).

visit author page

Download Paper |


Using Standards-based Grading to Effectively Assess Project-based Design CoursesStandards-based grading (SBG) is an alternative to traditional score-based gradingsystems that allows an instructor to provide assessment linked to course objectives.Course syllabi typically list course objectives that are rarely discussed again beyond thefirst day of class. SBG ties assessment throughout a course with these objectives, whilealso providing clear, meaningful feedback, fairness and transparency in the gradingprocess, and useful program assessment. Objectives are skills-based and specific, whilefeedback is directed at exactly which skills the students need to improve.Previous use of SBG in engineering courses has proven to be taxing on the instructoraccept for instances when students practice what they learn. Project-based design coursesalign well with SBG because their nature demands repeat assessment of fundamentallearning objectives. The following study investigates the use of SBG in two cornerstonedesign courses with similar learning objectives at different ABET accredited engineeringprograms. The first course was a 4-credit, 2-semester introduction to engineering for first-year students at a small, private liberal arts college (N = 45). The second was a 1semester, engineering project-based design course for second-year students at a large,public university (N = 60). This course offering is one course in a string of projectcourses required by students in this program each semester.Students at both institutions were asked to complete a survey investigating perceivedvalue toward SBG. The survey is designed to report scores relating to intrinsic (interest,enjoyment), attainment (contribution to self), utility (advantages toward personal goals),and cost (sacrifices required). Overall, students reported that the standards based gradingsystem has higher value (2.87) than cost (2.30) on a 4-point scale (p <0.001). At the smallliberal arts institution, students were more focused on attainment value, while students atthe large research university were more focused on utility value. Students at the smallliberal arts college also gave generally higher ratings to both value and cost, with asmaller (but still statistically significant) average difference between the two (0.34 and0.81, respectively).Students at both institutions were additionally queried to assess impact of the course onengineering design self-efficacy. Students reported higher self-efficacy in design-basedobjectives after the course, with an average self-efficacy increase of 15-20 points on a100-point scale.These results suggest that standards based grading is a valuable approach to assessmentof engineering students in early cornerstone project-based design courses at a range ofinstitution types. Differences expressed by the student populations, especially regardingperceived cost, may be due to the instructor’s lack of familiarity with the grading system.This limitation is hypothesized to decrease over time with practice.

Atwood, S. A., & Siniawski, M. T., & Carberry, A. R. (2014, June), Using Standards-based Grading to Effectively Assess Project-based Design Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23278

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015