Category Archives: Standards-Based Grading

The Spirit of SBG

You want switch to standards-based grading, but, for whatever reason, you cannot. Do not worry. All of the strengths of SBG can be done within a traditional grading system:
  1. Shift from tracking by chapter to tracking by concept.
  2. Allow opportunities for students to show growth.
  3. Don’t grade homework and practice.
  4. Provide timely and effective feedback.
  5. Spiral concepts throughout the curriculum and your assessments.
  6. Give shorter, more frequent quizzes.
  7. Assess what you value.
  8. Provide clear goals and expectations for performance.
  9. Encourage risk taking, failure, iteration, and experimentation.
  10. Do what works best for your students and your situation.

A traditional system done in the spirit of SBG  is much, much better than an SBG system done poorly. (Trust me, I’m speaking from experience!)

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

See also:

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.

Rethinking Grading

“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.

My Google Docs Gradebook

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

(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:

(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?