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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Standards Based Grading: A primer

So every year during the modeling workshop the question of grading comes up. I think it is a natural question because this teaching method is fundamentally different from what most of us have done before. A lot of the onus of the learning is placed upon the kids. They need to construct their own understanding from their experiences in class. This can be problematic because since our students come from different backgrounds (experiences, math abilities, reasoning abilities, etc.) it is ridiculous to think that they all reach understanding at the same time. So how do we handle this? How do we tell our students that it is ok to make mistakes and yet not have a grading system that allows for this?

Grading has always been a particular beef for me and I am sure like most of you, your grading system is eerily similar to a teacher you once had. The problem is that I think many of us never considered what our grades actually mean? What does a C on a quiz tell a student? How do you handle that question at a parent-teacher conference? If you are like me you probably have said, "Your student just needs to study more." Really? Does that actually help? What do I need to study? I need a study guide! As a student that doesn't really help me. And it leads to the the obvious conclusion that many students have.. "I'm not a good test taker." And while some students legitimately have test anxiety issues I would guess an enormous majority of the students who say this do not. They just don't understand the material.

I'll do the math for you...
All of these students would get the same grade for the course.
Does this seem right?


So wouldn't it be nice to give them something specific to work on? If you told a student that the reason they got a C on a quiz is because they had difficulty interpreting a position vs. time graph. Now they have a direction. It is an actionable statement. And in my mind it is much preferred for both student and parent. These are the things that you get from your elementary student's teacher. Billy needs to work on his alphabet letters. Susan needs to practice her addition facts. This is something you can work with. Secondary grades? Not so much.

So I made the switch to Standards Based Grading.  Not without a bunch of bumps in the road but it is definitely a trip that I have found rewarding as have my students. Much like physics modeling instruction there is not a "right one way" to do SBG. And you will find lots of resources for it. The main page that started me on this road are Think Thank Thunk by Shawn Cornally. He has several others that he links to on his page that I recommend checking out. I warn you though...



Woah.
                                   -Keanu Reeves

There are as many styles of SBG as there are traditional grading systems so I am sure you can find some to your liking. There are even some that are a hybrid of traditional and SBG together that I have seen. But no matter, SBG shifts the discussion from "What's my grade?" to "What do I need to work on to learn this?" It is a huge difference. Everyone can get an A as long as they master the standards.

So how does it look in my classroom?
I give the students a list of the unit standards at the beginning of the unit. I then give a series of short quizzes that spiral and build off each other. Each one tests anywhere from 3-5 standards usually. I score each standard on a 3 point scale (some would argue 4). A 3 means mastery of the standard. A 2 shows some understanding but with some mistakes. A 1 shows little understanding at all. A 0 is if they didn't take the assessment. When we are in the unit, most standards will get retested several times. If most of the students grasp the concept I will take it off the next quiz. If they struggle I will put questions on the next assessment for that standard. At no time is learning off limits to my students. So even if we are on Unit 4 and students are still working with Unit 1 standards, they can still retest those standards. If it is the next quarter I still let the students work on standards from the previous quarter. Even though this leads to more paperwork for me in regards to grade change forms, etc, they are worth it in my opinion because it reinforces the idea that it is ok in my class to make mistakes.

This change is hard for many of your students, but especially for your "Best" students. You know, the ones who have learned the game of school. Memorize, regurgitate, repeat. Nothing matters but the grade. Suddenly changing the rules on them is very difficult for them. They will need lots of reassurance and help but I have found all but the most entrenched are eventually converted. This is also challenging for many parents as they will not understand what you are trying to do and sometimes the message that comes home is not the best (see students referenced early in this paragraph.) I have found that having a script ready helps a lot for the parent contacts that are inevitable. As I have continued to use this method I have found parent phone calls have reduced as word has spread and on whole my students really grow to like this because they feel like they are actually accomplishing something. They are learning and they have proof.

I hope this helps. If you are not familiar with Rick Wormeli, you should be. Here are some of his youtube videos. Feel free to comment any questions you have!

1 comment:

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