MYP: Love the Personal Project, hate the way it’s assessed

Frustrated by the infernal assessment process for Personal Projects in the IB’s Middle Years Programme, I have hastily hammered out a proposal for change. I haven’t time at the moment to polish this, so treat it as a rough draft and let me know (email contact link is at left, under “Directory”, or post a comment). Here goes:

MYP Personal Project: A Proposal for Reform
by Eric T. MacKnight

I love the Personal Project. I hate the way it’s assessed.

The MYP’s Personal Project is an excellent activity insofar as it

•gives students the opportunity to pursue a topic of personal interest that is not otherwise covered in the curriculum;
•gives them a chance to use skills they have learned in school, and develop new skills; and
•gives them experience working independently.

Some of the work done for the Personal Project is truly remarkable, and even life-changing for students who discover a topic for which they have a genuine personal enthusiasm, or—at the top end—even passion.

Unfortunately, the assessment process is complicated, confusing to the point of incoherence, and ultimately counterproductive, since it shifts emphasis away from the actual project undertaken and focuses instead on evaluating a written report according to highly technical criteria (which, worse still, are often ambiguous or even contradictory).

Here is an outline of my proposal for revising the Personal Project’s assessment scheme and reviving its original intent.

What the students must do
•The project itself
•A written report of about 1000 words in which the student analyses and reflects on his or her project.
•A public display in the school. Students present and explain their projects to parents, teachers, and other students.

Marks & Descriptors
4 Very good or excellent
3 Good
2 Satisfactory
1 Unsatisfactory
0 Nothing submitted

Narrative Evaluation
•Written by supervisor
•Moderated internally
•Addressed to student
•Includes comments on

1. Choice of topic
Is the choice appropriate? Neither too broad, nor too narrow; neither too ambitious, nor trivial. Does the topic relate to a genuine personal interest? Etc.
2. Process
Organisation, time management, use of materials, choice of procedures, methods of research, documentation, etc.
3. Product
Is the final product of high quality?
4. Analysis and Reflection
Has the student thought deeply about the project, the difficulties encountered, his or her response to difficulties? What has the student learned from this experience? How has the student changed as a result of this learning? Etc.

Using this approach, students would write a report roughly one-quarter the length of the current report, and would focus solely on analysis and reflection, thus shifting the emphasis from writing a report back to the original project.

The supervisor would monitor during the course of the project the student’s choice and definition of the project; the student’s time organization, use of supporting materials, methods of research, etc.; and the quality of the final product. The supervisor would read the student’s analysis and reflection. Taking everything into account, the supervisor would then assign a mark between 0 and 4 on the scale given above.

Note that the descriptor for a ‘4’ deliberately combines ‘very good’ and excellent’ to avoid invidious distinctions that inevitably result in some students being given lower marks for comparable work.

Simplifying the marking scale also avoids byzantine calculations of marks in eight categories that more or less overlap and are open to varying interpretations, inviting prolonged debates over arcane questions in the attempt to reach consensus on whether the student should receive a ‘3’ or a ‘4’ for Criterion B.

The supervisor’s narrative evaluation, addressed to the student, would focus on the choice of topic; the process followed; the quality of the final product; and the quality of the student’s written analysis and reflection.

This narrative evaluation would be attached to the student’s written report and moderated internally. In a very small school, the MYP Coordinator might moderate all the evaluations, but in most schools this moderation would be done by colleagues working in teams. The aim of this moderation would be to produce the best possible narrative evaluations and a broad consensus for the judgments made by supervisors.

Once marks are awarded and evaluations delivered, the projects would be publicly displayed. Each school will handle this in its own way. The essential is that students have a chance to share their project with a large number of peers, teachers, and parents, and receive public recognition for their efforts.

Schools could be invited by the MYP to submit the best Project from each Grade 10 class—or perhaps more than one for larger schools—for international recognition.

If you think this plan would be a worthwhile improvement, I’d love to hear from you.

UPDATE, September 2012: I have closed comments on this post as a) I am not currently teaching in an MYP school, and b) as Liam points out, the PP has changed since I first wrote about it.

13 thoughts on “MYP: Love the Personal Project, hate the way it’s assessed”

  1. Eric,

    Great idea. Now how do you get IBO to realize the problem as it’s a major shift in policy?


  2. Hi Maninder,

    I posted this idea in the Personal Project area of the IBO’s OCC a few months ago, and it got a bit of attention, but opinions were mixed. I’m afraid I don’t expect big changes any time soon. Sadly, I just don’t believe in the existing assessment scheme, so I have removed myself from PP supervision. There still seems to be plenty of work to do, however! ;^)

  3. Hi Christopher,

    I haven’t kept up with proposed changes, but just now when I scanned the OCC all I found was a report from the first review meeting, in early 2008. Can you point me toward something more recent?



  4. While there is certainly a lack of clarity that needs to be addressed in the current criteria making the product will not drive the learning process forward.

    The personal project is not an end product but in fact a vehicle which focuses on ATL skills (investigation, research, citing, referencing, organsiation, formatting, punctuality, communication, formal report writing) and uses an AoI (or possibly more than one) as the focus vehicle for its development.

    By having the product assessed (as in thing developed, presented or made) detracts from the reflection and documentation of the project through the personal statement (which is the only standardised product that can be fairly assessed) and allows an awful lot of room for cheating as well. As the finished product is now marked there is considerable room for deviant behaviour. If you think that it should me monitored every step of the way then it prevents very large scale products from being developed as the supervisor cannot possibly oversee a process that goes on say 30 km from the school every week.

    On the other hand, regular meetings with supervisors allow for supervisors to check that the written statements are developing in line with what is needed as there is that one-to-one contact.
    Always open to most changes in the MYP PP but I think any focus on the product is a retrograde step.

    The changes you propose would mean that my school would, be very wary of using the MYP PP as a measure of student aptitude for the DP EE. That would be a shame.

    1. Hi Mark,

      A long-overdue response: you have identified the key question. Is it a ‘personal project’, a chance for students to pursue independently something of real personal interest? Or is it a long research paper that gives students practice for the Diploma Programme’s Extended Essay? If it’s the latter, then be honest and just call it the MYP Extended Essay.


  5. I agree absolutely with you!!! I am a Y11 student currently going through the personal project and I have a friend who just writes about his “imaginary product” since he did nothing but the written statement. I think it’s just unfair for the system to be like this. It’s just simply saying, use your ingenuity instead of working hard.

  6. This seems like heaven to a student currently doing the PP. As you might have guessed, it is hell. Some people aren’t even doing a product because the only thing we’re graded on is the essay, just making it (yet another) boring, incoherent and pointless exercise the MYP inflicts on us. You have the students behind you 100%, Eric!

  7. Dear Eric,
    I like your proposal for reform very much.
    It simplies the criteria for the pp assessment and makes them easier to understand.Some of the criteria are too technical and confusing for the pp supervisors.

  8. Hey Eric!

    Your interpretation of the criteria is far more coherent than that of MYP itself. For this, I heartily conratulate you. However what students really get confused with is the format of the paperwork to be handed in and not exactly the criteria. The criteria are pretty much relevant even in 2011 (just as it was in 2006, when this article was written). However the expectations of IB-MYP are increasing daily. Hence what is more important than the criteria is a method for students to go about and fulfill the criteria. I hope you follow up on that.


  9. Eric

    I’ve just recently finished my personal project weeks ago, and I totally agree with you about it being an MYP extended essay…. Me and my fellow classmates agree on that too. I think you’re right, the fact that they make you work hard on the product but in the end it’s not even graded and the only thing that really matters is the report, to be honest this is dim.

    From the eyes of the student, you do have a point a very valid point and they should put your point in consideration.

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