# Category Archives: Standards-Based Grading

## Keep It Simple Standards-Based Grading

Keep ISimple Standards-Based Grading (K.I.S.SBG.)

This post will probably raise the ire of SBG purists. If you are considering switching to SBG, I say go for it. Even if it means you keep it simple the first year, as you and your students figure it all out for the first time. Here’s my K.I.S.SBG. story…

Last spring, I taught a section of conceptual chemisty. Brand new subject for me. To make my life easier, I initially told the students that I would be using the same points-based grading system as their teacher from the fall semester.

And then I sat down to grade their first quiz.

How many points was each question worth? Should some questions be worth more than others? How many points in total? How should I give partial credit? And how is any of this providing helpful feedback to students?

All those questions made it clear: I couldn’t go back to a points-system. It just didn’t make sense to me anymore. So I decided to go SBG, but with a few caveats to keep everyone sane. This is how it ended up looking:

A set of ~5 standards per unit. WHY: This seems to get at the right scope–not too granular, not too broad. Of course, some units had a few more standards, others a few less. Keep it simple.

Each standard was graded binary YES/NO. WHY: Prevents point-grubbing from students. No need to deal with questions like, “Why did she get a 3 on that standard while I only got 2?” Either the student met the standard or they didn’t. Keep it simple.

Standards that are YES cannot go back down. WHY: Prevents students from perceiving this new grading system as unfair. This can save you many headaches, frantic emails from students, and phone calls from parents. Keep it simple.

Term grade = 50 + 50*(#YES/#TOTAL). WHY: No need to worry about conjunctive grading systems, decaying averages, or tiered standards. Kids can quickly and easily calculate their grade. Keep it simple.

No student-initiated reassessments. WHY: This actually wasn’t my rule, but I was lucky if these students showed up to class in the first place. No one came to extra help or during a free period to reassess. So I just put the most missed standards on subsequent quizzes. It worked out fine and I didn’t have kids hounding me for reassessments when the term ended. Keep it simple.

I didn’t write the standards on each quiz, but put them on a separate scoring sheet (see below). As I looked over the quiz, I marked “✔” or “X” for each standard.

When I finished marking all the quizzes, I used the score sheets to transfer the grades into ActiveGrade.

After all the scores were entered, I printed a current grade report for each student. I stapled together the quiz, the score sheet, and the grade report so each student would know where they stood when I returned the quizzes. That way, if the score sheet showed that student “went down” in a standard they previously had correct, they were reassured by the grade report that the YES grade from a previous quiz remained on record. No worrying about logging into ActiveGrade after school or during class. Keep it simple for the student.

At the end of each term was one final quiz to show understanding any unattained standards.

One final bit of advice: If you still want to grade HW, binder organization, class participation, etc, go right ahead. The best part of SBG, in my opinion, is that it gives multiple chances to be successful, gives better feedback about what students can/cannot do, and forces the teacher to spiral the curriculum to enable reassessment. I don’t want you to forgo all those SBG benefits because you still feel uneasy about giving up grading HW completion. Baby steps, baby steps.

Could my system have been better? Sure. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You can tweak and modify next year. Keep it simple, and just do it.

## The Poison of Points

Some recent turmoil in the Twitterverse about points and cheating…

Exhibit A: Clickers and Points

Exhibit B: Cramster and Homework Points

Exhibit C: Khan Academy Cheats

Exhibit D: Khan Academy and Points

I think all of this cheating and gaming is great. Why? Because it forces us to improve our practice. (Or would you rather wear yourself out playing “To Catch a Cheater?”)

If students do homework and go to class solely because if points, there is a larger systemic issue that needs to be addressed.

To which you say, “But if I don’t give points, they won’t do it.”

So where does it stop? Why do we let ourselves become willing participants in this game for points? We need a culture shift.

“It’s a shame that this is what our education has come to — making the grade. Getting an A is more important than learning the material — ask any of the hundreds of high schoolers who spend their nights and lunch periods cramming for tests, only to lose the information days later. Even for AP tests, SATs or ACTs, people who strive to do well study as hard as they can to learn as much as they can in a short time frame, but after the test, that information that they struggled to retain no longer matters. Grades are what matter, not knowledge.”

So writes Melissa Grossbarth, a senior in my AP Physics class, in a piece about my standards-based grading system for her column in the local paper. I’m really excited about the impact we can have on kids and learning just by changing how we grade.

Be sure to head over and read the rest of Melissa’s article. Then leave her a comment, tweet it, and/or like it if you agree with her: Rethinking Grading

## Grading and xkcd

Today’s xkcd comic nails the problem with averaging customer ratings. The connection to grading is pretty obvious.

Couple this with parachute packing:

And do we really need anymore reasons to convince people we need to switch to Standards-Based Grading?

Also see these two articles from ASCD (in case blog posts don’t fly with your audience):

## SBG: Keeping Track of it All

“How do you keep track of everything in your standards-based grading system?”

Both the students and I are responsible for tracking scores. Here’s how it works.

I use Google Docs for my SBG gradebook. Since each course I teach has different standards, I have a separate file for each course. Multiple sections of the same course are in the same file. Here’s how the files are set up:

[1] Each assessment has its own sheet in the gradebook file.
[2] One column for each standard on the assessment, in order of appearance (question order). This makes transferring scores from quiz paper to gradebook much easier. Even easier if the quiz papers are alphabetized.
[3] Cells have color-coded formatting rules. I can easily see that everyone rocked standard BF.1, while CV.4 will need reteaching. Student A did well on the whole, while Student Y should come for extra help.

Once the scores for the assessment are recorded, I copy/paste them to the master sheet.

[4] The master sheet keeps track of the most recent scores for all of the standards.
[5] The standards are ordered by level. This make determining quarter grades easier. (See my grading policy sheet below.)
[6] The columns from the most recent assessment (in this case BF Quiz 2), are copied from the assessment sheet and pasted to the master sheet, one-by-one. Most recent scores replace old scores.

The master sheet allows me to see at a glance where everyone currently stands. (You cannot do this with the SnapGrades online gradebook.) I can see the date and assessment name for when each standard was last scored. And since each assessment has its own sheet, I do not lose the prior scores for the standards. The scores for students who reassess on their own time are entered directly into the master sheet and are annotated.

What I cannot do is see, at-a-glance, a student’s progress over time for each standard. This is why I also have…

Student Learning Folders

Each student has a 2- pocket folder with prongs. The prongs hold hole-punched pages. The first page explains my SBG grading policy.

The subsequent pages in the folder are tracking sheets for the learning goals.

When students get a quiz back, they record the name of the assessment, the date, and their scores on the corresponding standards on the tracking sheets. Students can store the quizzes in the pockets, if they wish. With their folder, students can easily see, at-a-glance, their progress on each standard over time. According to Marzano, student gains are higher when students track their progress.

At interims and end-of-quarter time, students fill out a progress report. They take the most recent score for each standard and record it under the corresponding level. This makes it easier for the student to determine their grade for the interim or quarter. Folders and progress report sheets are sent home to parents.

I then meet with students individually to discuss their grade, making sure my Google Docs gradebook reconciles with their progress report sheet.

This system works really well for me. While there are more scores to enter for each assessment, it takes the same amount of time as it would to tally up all the points earned if the quiz was scored traditionally.

Be sure to read “Improving the Way We Grade Science” for more background on standards-based grading. (It’s where I picked up the tip to color-code the scores in the spreadsheet.) You can also check out my SBG bookmarks at http://bit.ly/SBGlinks.

(Note: Feed reader users may need to click through to view embedded documents.)

## Reassessment Experiment

CV.3 (A) I can solve problems involving average speed and average velocity.

That learning goal is the thorn in the sides of many of my students right now.

They took their midterm exam last week and many missed the question associated with that goal. The (A) denotes that it is a core goal.  Which means that, based on this grading scale:

their quarter grade cannot go above 69 until all core goals are met.

I handed the exams back in class yesterday.  Naturally, many students wanted to reassess on the spot. Since I have an archive of quizzes from previous years, it was easy for me to print out a bunch and let them have at it.

And most of them missed it again on the reassessment. No surprise there, really. Without any remediation, it was just another shot in the dark.

So as an experiment, I posted the following to our class’s Edmodo page today:

Does CV.3 have you Down? If so, do the following by Monday:

(1) Explain, in detail, the difference between average speed and average velocity. Simply writing the two equations won’t be sufficient.

(2) Describe in detail a situation where an object’s average speed and its average velocity have the same value.

(3) Describe in detail a situation where an object’s average speed and its average velocity have different values.

(4) Create your own physics problem involving average speed and average velocity that is NOT a simple “plug-and-chug” type problem. (For example, “A car travels 50 miles north in 2 hours. What is its average speed and velocity?” is NOT acceptable.) Write up both the problem and a complete solution. Feel free to use pictures, graphs (even video) as part of your problem. Check out this link for non-”plug-and-chug” problem types: http://tycphysics.org/TIPERs/tipersdefn.htm

(5) Cite all resources (classmates, parents, books, web pages, videos, etc.) you used. (It doesn’t have to be in proper MLA format. A simple list is fine.)

Submit you work HERE on Edmodo. You should upload a file (word, PDF, etc.). The work must be YOUR OWN. I can tell when “collaboration” is really copying.

I hope this provides both the necessary remediation and a unique opportunity to reassess beyond simple quiz questions. I am really excited to see what kind of problems they write. I have done student problem writing in the past, but was never pleased with the results. Perhaps by requiring them to create a TIPER problem, we can push past equation memorization and towards understanding.

This scenario has also raised a few more unanswered questions: Why do I have this goal in my course in the first place? Why do my students keep missing it even though all quizzes (and the midterm) are open notebook? And if so many students are missing it, is it really a “core” goal?

## SBG Gala #4

 Blog Carnival standards-based grading gala

Welcome to the 4th edition of the Standards-Based Grading Gala! We’ve got another round of great posts — perfect for winter break reading!

But first, a little SBG Twitter humor. On Twitter, SBG-related tweets are tagged #SBAR (since #SBG is already heavily used for non-educational purposes) which stands for Standards-Based Assessment and Reporting. But that unique nomenclature occasionally raises some questions:

And now, the posts:

SBG Questions

John Burk presents Perfectionism and SBG posted at Quantum Progress, saying, “How do we keep SBG focused on learning and not just checking off standards?”

SBG Implementation

Chris Ludwig presents Skills-Based Grading: Trying to Avoid the Standards-Based Tag posted at Science Education on the Edge, saying, “I think names are important when I discuss what I do as a teacher to improve my instruction.”

Matt Townsley presents So, you’re interested in standards-based grading…. posted at MeTA musings, saying, “a beginning conversation about SBG implementation”

Jason Buell presents The Weekly Portfolio posted at Always Formative, saying, “A low maintenance way to help students develop self-evaluation skills.”

Riley Lark presents Natural Grade Calculation with Tags posted at ActiveGrade Blog, saying, “it’s a post about using standards-based grading to improve overall grade definitions.”

Mr. Miller presents The Day of Reckoning Has Arrived posted at Studio 201, saying, “Semester and quarter grades, SBAR style.”

@cheesemonkeysf presents The Rough Guide to the SBG Rubric cheesemonkey cooks, saying, “I’ve been wrestling with the question of whether or not to include a 3.5 in my 4-point rubric.”

SBG Miscellaneous

Geoff Schmit presents Student Feedback on SBAR posted at Pedagogue Padawan, saying, “Several students answers to the question ‘Standards-Based Grading is …’ after the first semester.”

Jill Gough presents 2nd Chance Tests, Effort, and Assessment posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing.

Russ Goerend presents Capturing the process of students learning posted at Russ Goerend, saying, “Focused on capturing learning. Not exactly an sbar nuts and bolts post.”

Jason Christiansen presents Reassessment Fridays (SBG): A Love Story posted at Mr. C’s AP Statistics Blog.

My submission is an old post: 31 Reasons Why Kids Like SBG.

That concludes the 4th edition of the Standards-Based Grading Gala. Thanks to everyone who submitted a post! John Burk has graciously agreed to host the next SBG gala! Check his blog at a future date for more information. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

## Accepting Submissions for SBG Gala 4

 Blog Carnival standards-based grading gala

I am psyched to be hosting the next round of the SBG Gala! The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2010. The carnival will be posted here on my blog on December 23 — just in time for vacation so you’ll have plenty of time to read and comment on all the great posts without the stress of lesson planing and grading.

Whether you are an SBG veteran, a newcomer, or on the fence, we want to hear from you! Your post could be old or new. Your post doesn’t even have to be SBG-specific — any post about assessment (formative, summative, project-based, etc.) will do. What’s working for you? What questions do you have? What changes will you make? How have students and parents reacted? Have you gotten other teachers in your school to ride the SBG Express?

In case you’ve missed them, here are the previous editions of the gala:

The gala is great way to network with other teachers looking to reform their assessment practices and to discover new blogs to feed your reader.

So what are you waiting for? Superman? Submit your post for SBG Gala #4! Toot! Toot!

## SBG to Nowhere?

(Some readers may need to click through to view embedded videos.)

Warning: I make no attempt to present a coherent and tidy post. I’m just thinkin’ through some thoughts that I’ve been wrestling with over the last few days. And those thoughts got a big kick in the rear yesterday after our entire high school faculty watched Race to Nowhere. The movie hit home because the overwhelming majority of the students at my school are under the stress to perform and acheive academically just like the students profiled in the documentary.

I want to focus on learning rather than grades. SBG has taken me a long way toward this goal. But, having done some version of SBG for several years now, I am left wondering: Are students now just playing a new game? Instead of racking up points, aren’t they now racking up learning targets? Has my SBG system simply helped my students become better runners in the race to nowhere?

What is at the finish line that I want my students to reach? My course syllabus says:

 This course utilizes guided inquiry and student-centered learning to foster the development of critical thinking skills. It aims to help you become:  • A Collaborative Learner — You will complete cognitive and hands-on physics assignments in cooperative student groups. You will acknowledge and fulfill your responsibility to the group and actively contribute. • A Self-Directed Learner — You will develop and demonstrate initiative and responsibility by always trying to complete tasks when faced with challenges. You will problem solve independently and create new solutions. • An Effective Communicator — You will develop graphical, mathematical, verbal, and diagrammatical representations of the phenomenon being studied. You will present ideas to your peers and ask productive questions of your peers and of yourself, helping you to become a better thinker and problem solver. • An Analytical Thinker — You will use observation, experience, reasoning, and communication in order to gather, interpret, and evaluate information and abstract concepts. You will utilize and apply these concepts in a variety of new and meaningful contexts.

This expectation doesn’t align very well with the “learn-quiz-reassess” version of SBG that I’ve been using. My students are racing to an empty finish line. This realization has me asking lots of questions about my assessment and instruction.

What does it mean to demonstrate mastery? Should I expect my students to become physics masters by the end of the year? Should they be able to solve problems and design experiments blindfolded while standing on one foot with the same ease and finesse as their teacher who has been doing this for 13 years? Hell, I needed to reference my own notes today about the second-order differential equation for the motion of a mass-spring system. Which leads to my next question:

Should students be allowed to use their notes on my assessments? I ask my students to do all their problem solving, lab analysis, and general notetaking in their physics journals. I make them use colored pens to color-coordinate their diagrams and graphs. They are curating the artifacts of their learning in these notebooks, but I ask them to put them away for quizzes and tests.  Am I worried that students could just transpose a homework problem onto a test problem? If that is possible, then I must be asking the wrong questions. Am I worried that allowing open notebooks would make the quiz meaningless? But aren’t most “real world” assessments “open notes?” Which leads to my next question:

Should students be allowed to work in small groups on assessments? I want my students to solve problems which force them to stretch their thinking. I want my assessment to be just as much a learning experience as any other group activity we do in class. Recent research shows that collaboration beats smarts in group problem solving. I want to give students the satisfaction of solving challenging problems, even if they can’t do it alone. And aren’t most “real world” assessments really group assessments? Which leads to my next question:

Should portfolios replace formal exams? Can a portfolio of work show evidence of learning just as well as a test? A portfolio would allow  students to display a wider array of skills (like those listed above on my syllabus) which go beyond mastery of content. Haven’t the physics students in the “Mythbusters” videos below demonstrated they’ve learned physics (and obviously much more) without taking a single exam?

I do not claim to have the answers to these questions. But, as a teacher who values learning and risk taking above all else, I must explore the possibilities. Today, I allowed my college-prep students to use their notebooks on their quiz. I am going to try to implement the “Mythbuster” model seen in the video with my conceptual physics students. I will allow for more group work to be used as evidence of learning.

I am not abandoning SBG. I need to take it to the next level. Learning goals are still needed so we have direction. But how we get there will be different.

## SBG Free & Clear

Assessment is a dirty job. That’s why there’s SBG Free & Clear® with Morale-LiftersTM.

With SBG, teachers are FREE to assess and re-assess what they want, when they want, and how they want without worrying about many points should an assignment or problem be worth and how will it taint the quarter grade.

Here’s a quiz I gave last year on constant velocity motion. Before SBG I would agonize over assigning point values and had agita trying to give partial credit. The SBG version simply links the problems to the standards. A single problem can address multiple standards. A single standard can be assessed with multiple problems. SBG sets you free!

Two problems, one standard: Students must be able to tell me both Larry’s distance (problem 1a) and displacement (problem 1b) in order to demonstrate mastery of standard CV.1

Two standards, one problem: Students must be able to interpret the position-time graph given (standard CV.6) and be able to draw the corresponding motion map (standard CV.4) in order successfully answer problem 2a.

SBG has reassesment naturally built in. After the quiz above, we continued our work on constant velocity motion. The unit concluded with a lab practicum in which students simulated the tortoise and the hare story with 2 toy buggies, one fast and one slow. The “tortoise” had was given a head start, and students had to determine where and when the hare would pass the tortoise. If you scroll to the second page, you can see this is the first time for assessing CV.8 and the second time for CV.6.

You can also see that SBG gives students the opportunity to be assessed both on lab process standards and constant velocity content standards in the same assignment. You cannot mix and match standards this way with traditional grading. In the past, I would have lumped everything together as a “lab grade.”

Later in the year, when we are doing momentum conservation, I can reassess on some of the constant velocity standards to check for retention. If you scroll to the second page, you’ll see that CV.4, CV.6, and CV.7 are reassessed again.

With SBG, students are FREE to re-assess what they want, when they want, and how they want without worrying about how their past performance will impact their grade.

Here’s what one former student had to say about SBG:

I am very happy with the grading system for two reasons. A) it fosters success, and I believe that improves confidence. B) Physics is not easy. I, and I believe most students, do not always get it the first time. Being able to be graded on what we ultimately know improves my own stress-level, but by going over certain topics, I also get to know and understand them better.

As you can see,this level of freedom gives SBG its morale-lifting action.

With SBG, teachers are FREE to assign homework without worrying about how to grade it and what to do when students copy homework from each other. Teachers do not have to collect a stack of copied work, take several hours to mark them, only to return them the next day to end up in the blue recycling bin.

With SBG, students are FREE to tackle homework.for the sake of practice without worrying about performance. And students are free to choose not do homework if they do not need the practice.

A word of caution: You must trust your students and they must trust you in order for students to take ungraded homework seriously. Read about what happened when I broke that trust in an earlier post titled SBG and Trust.

SBG makes it CLEAR to teachers which of their assignments are meaningful. Does this assignment help students become more proficient in my standards? Can this assignment be used to assess students on my standards? If the answer is no, away it goes! SBG puts a stop to baseless extra credit and pointless crossword puzzles.

For example, in the past, I would give extra credit for students who submitted an entry for the Physics Challenge Problems that are in each issue of The Physics Teacher magazine, the High School Physics Photo Contest, or the Toy Box Physics Video Contest. The extra credit would usually be something like dropping their lowest quiz grade, exemption from an uncompleted homework assignment, or just extra points added to their quiz average.

Now with SBG, I can still have students enter those contests, but I will assess their entries based on the standards that apply. Hopefully, they will chose a topic they are weak on and use the contest as an opportunity to grow and to demonstrate to me that growth. Now students have another method to show me what they know outside of a quiz and get credit for it — more morale-lifing action!

SBG makes it CLEAR to students what they need to know and be able to do in order to be successful. With a list of standards give to students at the start of each unit, they do not have to second-guess what will be on the test.   Students also know exactly why their assignments are important.

SBG make it CLEAR to both teachers and students how students are progressing by CLEARLY pointing out strong and weak areas. This level of clarity is also part of SBG’s morale-lifting action. One of my students said:

I like the grading system because it helps you know what learning goals you need to focus on, and in what areas you need to study for the quiz. By putting them in those charts, we can also be aware of our progress at every point throughout the quarter.

You can find more student reactions to SBG in an earlier post called 31 Reasons Why Kids Like SBG.

Don’t think SBG Free & Clear® can stand up to Traditional Grading? Here’s a testimonial from Ms. Gajda about how traditional grading held her and her students back during an egg-drop competition in her class:

As they were taking apart their container to see if their egg had survived, these two students analysed the design of their container and highlighted the features of the design which made it successful. They had made a few last minute changes and they explained to me why they made those changes and how those changes improved the design. When asked, they were able to describe the physics concepts behind all the successful aspects of their design.

As they were talking, I thought to myself, “please write all this down in your lab report” because a lab report was how I was going to assess their understanding of the concepts of physics and design. But did those brilliant, eloquent explanations appear in the lab report? No. Did those students get credit for their understanding that had been demonstrated to me? Well, it wasn’t on the rubric for the lab report.

These two students weren’t unique. Another student who was able to tell me why his container had worked didn’t even submit a lab report. At that moment I knew there had to be a better way of giving credit to students for what they have mastered.

Enter SBG. Imagine now that I have a time machine and I can go back to April during my practicum. How would I deal with the same situation using SBG? For this project, I would have two forms of assessment.

• One assessment would be the lab report with which I would score the students on two standards: (1) understanding Newton’s second law and (2) demonstrated ability to effectively communicate in writing.
• Another assessment would be teacher observation or interview. I would record a score just for the student’s ability to demonstrate understanding of the relationship between force, mass and acceleration.

That’s the power of SBG Free & Clear® with Morale-LiftersTM.

(Note: My SBG Free & Clear® with Morale-LiftersTM picture at the beginning of the post is my lame attempt to parody this. Please don’t sue me!)