I wrote a couple of times before the year began about switching to standards-based grading in my classroom, but haven’t mentioned anything since then and since we are only a couple of weeks from the winter break I thought it’d be a great time to write a post discussing the pros and cons of my implementation thus far.
First of all, if you are not familiar with standards-based grading there are some great resources out there both in print and online. These are some of the ones that I reference the most.
Standards-based grading is an assessment system, designed to ensure that students are mastering the content and not just gaming the system for points. It centers around a list of standards created before instruction. These standards are then assessed and reassessed over the duration of the unit. Assessments can be come through any means (paper and pencil tests, projects, and even interviews), as long as the student is proving they understand the standard(s) in question. Students are allowed and encouraged to retake any and all assignments that they can, not in order to earn a better grade, rather to actually learn the material.
Knowing that I was going to be implementing SBG this year, I spent a lot of time this summer researching what makes a standard/learning objective effective. And as I usually do I ended up putting forth all of my time and effort into the first unit of study (I could spend months planning the first week of school and still not be satisfied). Needless to say, I am now playing catch-up in all three of my preps.
My units usually end up with 3-5 standards written in “I can…” format. I actually find this process to be a lot easier in my geometry and astronomy class than I do in physics. I think this has to do with how interconnected all of the information is in physics as compared to geometry, perhaps its just the way I teach the individual courses.
After this initial run through I’ll be able to put more thought into everyone of them and alter them for the better.
Another popular aspect of SBG is the use of four-point scales. I began with this scoring system in place, but quickly found myself having a horrible time differentiating between a level 2 and level 3 understanding based on how granular my standards were.
I read a lot of information about different scoring systems and found a great deal of educators employing a binary system, mastery vs developing, or something of the like. However, with our district’s online grading system I couldn’t find a good way to perform the calculations without having to go to Excel, do all of my own calculations, and then transfer them back over.
So I decided to take the middle-ground.
I settled on 3 levels, Mastery, Proficient, and Beginning. This seemed just about right for my standards. 4-levels are good for very broad standards. While 2-levels are better for pass-fail type objectives.
I feel that mine fall perfectly in between.
In terms of the 100-point scale, I wanted a 3 to represent a 100, 2 to be a 70-ish, and a 1 to be a 50. So the best way I found to do this was to grade on a 4 point scale and just skip the 1.
One thing that I need to do for the students is to better communicate the meaning of each level. After the break I’m going to try to print out several pages to place around the room explaining what each level represents. I honestly answer the question, “is this good”, at least once every time I hand back a quiz.
Another thing that I need to start doing is creating rubrics that describe how to earn a 4, 3, or 2 on each standard. Right now I am grading each question individually and then averaging all of the questions on the four-point scale. This results in 3.2 and 2.5-type scores and I feel that this is too similar to the traditional 100-point scale system.
I will say that the actual scoring portion of SBG is, largely, left up to the imagination as I have seen very little written on it. Maybe I am just looking in the wrong places.
This is another aspect I am still undecided on. I am currently testing out two different methods.
In geometry I keep the students’ two most recent scores with the most recent going into a district-mandated 60% category and the older into a 40% category. I think I have seen this system referred to as a “decaying average” and it is met with mixed reviews among the SBGers of the world.
In physics and astronomy I am only keeping the most recent score for each objective. I think this is the more popular manner of scoring currently in the community.
I like how structured my gradebook looks in geometry, but I feel like students are still punished, albeit less severely, for their past grades. The jury is still out on this one.
Another tenant of SBG is not grading practice or daily work. This is probably my favorite aspect now, but was actually the one that I was most apprehensive about originally. Before SBG I assumed the old teacher adage that if it isn’t for a grade they won’t do it. Quite the contrary though, I have had zero issues with students not doing work because it isn’t graded. Now do not read that last line as I do not have any students who do not do the daily work, I do. But these students are the ones that most likely wouldn’t have done the work even if it were for a grade.
As long as the students are assured that it is in their best interest to do the work, they will do it! Don’t let this be something that holds you back from making the change.
When you do grade daily work, bell ringers, homework, and the like you are watering down each student’s grade with things that don’t accurately reflect their knowledge and I want each student’s grade to correlate with their understanding of _______ as strongly possible.
Overall, I am pretty pleased with how SBG has gone thus far. I need to make a few changes mostly associated with my scoring system, but I love how accurately I feel each student’s grade reflects their knowledge of geometry, astronomy, or physics.
It has been very difficult to keep up while implementing this completely different system in all three of my preps, but overall worth it. I do wish more teachers at my school and across the country would use this system so that students would be more familiar with it by the time they got to me, but that comes with time and positive publicity.