Keep It Simple 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.
“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
“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:
 Each assessment has its own sheet in the gradebook file.  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.  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.
 The master sheet keeps track of the most recent scores for all of the standards.  The standards are ordered by level. This make determining quarter grades easier. (See my grading policy sheet below.)  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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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:
(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.