Tag Archives: standards-based grading

Physics Teaching 2.Uh-Oh

My first talk! Given at the STANYS 2011 Physics Breakfast on November 8th, 2011 in Rochester, New York


Links to resources mentioned in the talk:

A huge thank you to Gene Gordon for inviting me to speak at the breakfast. It was great to share my passions and meet my virtual colleagues face-to-face!

I’d love any feedback you have, positive and negative. Thanks!

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.

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 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
archives | submit post

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.

My 2010 Edublog Award Nominations

For my 2010 Edublog Award Nominations, I want to recognize the people that have tremendously advanced my learning and thinking this past year.

Best individual blog – Science Teacher
Michael Doyle’s writing is insightful, beautiful, and humbling. He reminds me why what we do as teachers matters and why what we aren’t doing as teachers matters even more.

Best individual tweeter – Jerrid Kruse
Jerrid doesn’t tweet the lastest Web 2.0 tools or Top 10 lists. He engages his audience with thoughtful questions and frequent push back. The conversations we’ve had on Twitter have always stretched my mind, whether about shiny technology or science education.

Best new blog – Quantum Progress
John Burk blogs like nobody’s business. He reflects on his practice by posting videos of student discussions and samples of student work. He blogs about trying to change his students mindset about learning, grades, and getting into college. He wants his students to change the world and he is helping them get there.

Best teacher blog – Think Thank Thunk
Shawn Cornally’s got drive, passion, honesty, and a no-holds-barred attitude. His 3 separate series on Physics, Calculus, and SBG could easily standalone as separate outstanding blogs.

Best educational use of video / visual – Dan Meyer’s “What Can You Do With This?” series
From basketball parabolas to filling up a water tank, this series strives to make math more meaningful to students through carefully constructed videos and pictures.

Lifetime achievement – Dan Meyer
Dan’s was the first blog I read regularly. His “How Math Must Assess” manifesto is what put me and many others on the road to better grading practices. Follow that up with an appearance on Good Morning America for his WCYDWT-Groceries and  a TEDxNYED talk about a makeover for math curriculum, and you’ve got a math guy whose influence is being felt in all subject areas.

Accepting Submissions for SBG Gala 4

Blog Carnival
standards-based grading gala
archives | submit post

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.

Hello, readers of The Physics Teacher!

If you’ve come by way of Dan MacIsaac’s WebSights column in the October issue of The Physics Teacher, welcome! I began blogging this summer, writing about a variety of topics such as assessment, technology in the classroom, and inquiry-based pedagogies like modeling.

The Archives link in the menu bar above will list of all my posts so far. Don’t know where to start? Here are some of my readers’ favorite posts:

  • The $2 Interactive Whiteboard – Why your students should work collaboratively on problems using group-size whiteboards rather than watching you lecture from an electronic interactive whiteboard.
  • Kobe, Karplus, and Inquiry – How I used a video of Kobe Bryant jumping over a pool of snakes to kick start an inquiry learning cycle on projectile motion.
  • Win? Fail? Physics!: An Introduction – All about my growing collection of YouTube videos which can be used to increase student motivation and drive instruction.
  • SBG Free & Clear – Concrete examples of how I use standards-based grading in my physics classes.
  • Modeling Instruction – My page of information and resources for those seeking more information about modeling instruction. Includes a link to my video library of teachers using modeling methods in their classrooms.

While you’re here, I’d like to mention one more blog for you to check out: John Burk’s blog Quantum Progress. John is a physics teacher in Atlanta who also teaches using modeling instruction and standards-based grading. He is doing some amazing things with his 9th graders in physics and he’s blogging all about it!

Anyway, now that it is September, I plan to post more about the lesson successes and failures I’ll be experiencing during this new school year. I hope you find something useful here and that you’ll join me for more!

Thanks for stopping by!