Transitioning to SBG

Having completed my first full-year of teaching, I now get to sit back and reflect upon the successes and failures on my pedagogy, while sipping a warm beverage in my living room which contains many leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany. All in all, I loved my first year. I had great classes that did amazing things; but now its time to make changes and start laying the foundations for more success stories.

The primary change that I am implementing next year is standards-based grading. I really wanted to start this year, but with all of the other aspects (challenges) that come with being a new teacher I just couldn’t find time to sit down and put forth the effort necessary to make such a change.

Why I want to change.

To give students obtainable learning targets – Towards Christmas break last year, I figured out that I had never really given my students any clear goals for what I wanted from them, other than, “to learn physics/geometry”. Students always do much better on projects when they are given a rubric which clearly outlines expectations of a project; by moving away from reporting grades as “Chapter 7 Test” to “Can properly apply conservation of energy to analyze the motion of a system” students are much more cognizant of what is expected of them and in a better place to succeed.
Remediation – This year I allowed students unlimited retakes, which I believe everyone should do, but I was really upset with the system in place. Students would often come to me with “what can I do to pull my grade up to…”, which translates to “I don’t care to learn anything, I just want this grade.” By assessing standards instead of assignments, students should be able to look and clearly see in which areas they need to improve. Many of our students lack the metacognitive skills to manage their own education. This is a skill that all students need to be successful in subsequent endeavors and one that we should foster as educators.
Here is a (hardly exhaustive) list of resources that I have used while researching standards-based grading policies and procedures

Action-Reaction: Frank Noschese
Physics! Blog!: Kelly O’Shea
Think. Thank. Thunk.: Shawn Cornally
Always Formative: Jason Buell

As a first step I wrote my standards for each class I will be teaching next year, Astronomy, Physics, and Geometry, all are subject to change. I have read a lot of stuff about how many standards you should have, but there is no consensus. I think mine are a bit granular, in that I have broken things down a lot, but I’ll reassess after this year and see if I want to make my standards more succinct.


With the standards in place, I have started to make quizzes that address as few standards as possible. I really wanted my quizzes to be very specific to certain standards, while assessments will tend to have a lot more standards-crossing questions, primarily for reassessment purposes. This way, if a student comes to me needing help on a single standard, I don’t have to necessarily give them the whole test over again.

Thus far, I have been doing my best to keep quizzes short, 3-10 questions, so that they can, for conservation purposes, be printed on a half-sheet of paper. While I am off this summer, I am also trying to make several versions of each quiz for reassessments. Here’s an Example.

I got the “Circle your answer and Cross out a response that you know is not correct” idea from P-dog’s blog. I really like it and feel like it could help me further probe student thinking and understanding on multiple choice questions, but I’m starting to wonder if it is really going to help or not. The only time I see it really being helpful is if a student chooses the incorrect answer and then crosses out the correct one, probably shows that they have almost no knowledge of the concept being assessed and, worse, are confident in that. The other problem I see is students just picking one of the other three options to cross out and putting no thought into it. Maybe, asking students to rate their confidence in their answer would be more beneficial, I’m not sure.

I’d also like to have buffet semester exams, where students choose the standards they need to reassess and therefore, no two students should have the same semester exam. Barry Fuller wrote a great piece about it here.


I plan on scoring students against a 4-point scale (including 0) with each number actually representing a level of understanding. I like how Jason Buell explained each of these levels on his blog, referenced earlier.

0 = No evidence of learning
1 = Can do most of the simple stuff with help
2 = Can do all of the simple stuff
3 = Can do all of the simple stuff and all of the complex stuff
4 = Can go beyond what was directly taught in class
He then goes on to the next logical progression, which I have yet to do, and breaks down each standard into more ‘rubric-like’ categories and says what a 4, 3, 2, or 1 is on that standard.


When I hand the standards out to the students I plan on giving them a document that has the standards, the learning levels for each standard (0, 1, 2, 3, or 4), the state standards that each is aligned with, and some general information, most notably that they will be assessed on each standard twice.

Currently I am planning on quizzing on standards after they have been covered in class and then assessing over all standards in a unit at the end. Our school uses PowerSchool to report grades to parents and students. What I plan on doing in PowerSchool is listing all of my standards as assignments twice, one of which being in our district’s mandatory 40% formative and the other being a 60% summative. Whenever a student assesses a standard their grade goes in the 60% category and, if they have already assessed it once, they old grade gets bumped down to the 40% category. I’m doing this because I want what they know at that time to weigh the most on students grade.

NOTE: PowerSchool does have a SBG system, but I haven’t been able to glean much from it and the website wasn’t very helpful regarding the topic.


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