How Do I Grade This?

By Martha Rush; Chief Educator-in-Residence

Tales and Tips From the Front #13

There’s only one form of feedback that really matters to an entrepreneur, and that’s market success. 

But that metric doesn’t translate so well into an academic setting. We can’t give students grades based on their profit/loss reports—or in any case, we shouldn’t.

For one thing, students can learn a tremendous amount from launching unsuccessful ventures, and that’s what our assessments need to reflect: learning

For another, even the venture capital darlings of Silicon Valley—the unicorns—rarely turn a profit in the first few years, not to mention in one high school semester!

So what can we assess? And how should we assess it?

First of all, the focus of all assessment in an entrepreneurship class, club, or camp should be formative feedback—or feedback aimed at promoting growth. There are many “deliverables” in the process of launching a venture, from problem validation questions to the customer profile, the minimum viable product, the sales funnel, and the pitch. Each one provides an opportunity for feedback and improvement.

The best way to provide consistent, meaningful feedback on deliverables, we believe, is to use a descriptive rubric. At Quarter Zero, we’ve developed a set of rubrics (aligned with proficiency-based grading) that help identify what “proficiency” in the lean startup process looks like—every step along the way. You can find these rubrics in our free First 50 Days Toolkit.

Here’s an example. To achieve proficiency in creating a minimum viable product, student teams should meet these four criteria:

  • MVP is an actual product (a good or service) or a clear description of the user experience with the product 
  • MVP strategy (Mockup, Trial Balloon, etc.) is appropriate to the venture
  • MVP includes no more than 5 key features and the problems they solve
  • MVP is designed as an experiment, which will help the team gather valuable customer feedback about the viability and usefulness of the solution

If a venture team’s MVP doesn’t meet these criteria, they have the opportunity to keep refining until it does. 

A team can achieve “mastery” if its MVP also captures all of the venture’s key hypotheses—and explains key features of the solution in a clear, concise package. 

A team would receive a “developing” rating if its MVP contains too many or too few features (trying to be “all things to all people”), if its strategy doesn’t fit the venture (creating a “Wizard of Oz” MVP when you don’t actually have the resources to fulfill orders), or if it is designed to reinforce the founders’ assumption rather than truly test them. 

This kind of feedback is focused on learning the process—not creating the perfect venture on the first try—and mastering the skills and practices of the lean startup process.

That’s what we need to be about.  


Pro Tips: 

  • Don’t grade students on the market success of their ventures
  • Give students meaningful feedback on their key deliverables
  • Always use feedback to encourage growth and improvement

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