Category Archives: Standards-Based Grading

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!)

31 Reasons Why Kids Like SBG

These are the results of the standards-based grading survey I gave my students last year. You’ll have to trust me that I didn’t edit their responses. (The survey was optional because I couldn’t reward them with points for completing it. I had about a 50% completion rate.)


Consider the grading system for the class: scores based on the learning goals, tracking progress over time, ability to retest on goals, etc. What do you like/dislike about the grading system? Do you think it has had an impact on your learning and understanding of physics? Give an example.

  1. I think this form of grading system is one of the best forms out there. The learning goals are set and we know exactly what we need to learn and get out of the topic before hand to make it easier to understand and much more organized. Tracking progress over time is also really helpful because it allows our grade to still remain high if we improve on our scores and knowledge as opposed to everything counting. The grading system allows students to have more success overall.
  2. What I enjoy about the new grading policy is how unique it is among most grading systems that teacher’s use in our school. I indeed believe it helped me understand physics a lot better because it gave us the ability to understand where exactly our flaws were in which needs improvement.
  3. I like the grading system because I advance when I learn the material. I failed math two years in a row because the teacher just moved on when I didn’t understand the material. In this class, when I don’t understand the material, I get a chance to learn it, and I don’t wind up failing when I don’t understand one thing right away. I feel like I have learned a lot more than I would have if the class was set up like most classes. I struggle with science and math a lot so I’m happy that physics is going as smoothly as it is.
  4. I like the fact that we are graded on understanding rather than on our ability to perform on tests. This system I feel is much fairer to the students and it really helps to give an idea of where students are in their learning process.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. I like that the grades are based on your actual capacity and knowledge of physics, instead of on a point system. The Point system just makes the class competitive while this structure makes it more about individual levels. I feel that even though we have a bigger class, it is handled more efficiently. It is great to be able to retest on subjects, because learning is supposed to be a progression. I definitely feel as though you can’t get left behind in this class, and things that I would’ve given up are now things that I keep trying to understand.
  8. The tracking over time process is good because it allows us to see an over time progression in our work. The ability to retest on goals is also a plus because it gives us a longer period of time to really grasp the concept if we didn’t do so well on the first test, which allows us to retain and learn the material more efficiently.
  9. I like the grading system for the class because we are graded on whether or not we know physics, not whether or not we can take a test. I think it has increased my understanding of physics because in most classes, you take a test and you get a grade and forget about the topic. With the chance to retest, I continue with the topic until I fully understand it.
  10. I really like the grading system for this class. Unlike every other class it gives students a chance to improve. Many times in the beginning of a course I don’t understand that material and don’t do that well on the test, and that grade ends up sticking with me forever.
  11. I do like the grading system. It gives the opportunity to learn, and not be concerned with a grade.
  12. It motivates me to learn physics because I can improve at my own pace instead of reaching deadlines in the form of large tests/quizzes.
  13. I think that learning goals are a good way to grade. It gives students an opportunity to learn for the sake of learning rather than concentrating on points. I find it easier to learn physics with learning goals because it allows me to connect concepts to application problems.
  14. I also like the process of grading because it is easier to understand what you need to work on, relating to the different skills. I believe that it has had a positive impact on my learning, but sometimes my understanding gets clouded because I don’t connect all the skills together, but I rather view them as individual skills. I think I need to connect the skills under one main skill and that would better my understanding of a certain topic. I really like the grading system and it is less stressful than other grading systems.
  15. I like how we are able to retest skills after we learn what our mistakes were on previous exams so we can properly learn from our mistakes. The system is also more useful in the aspect that it grades individual skills in a topic. With other grade systems, you get one grade that summarizes your entire knowledge of a topic, but not each skill that goes into it. A student that gets a 60 on a parabola test may be able to graph the parabola, but has trouble making the equation for one, thus, the grade may not truly reflect their skill in the topic.
  16. I like the grading system because it forces you to learn the material and you can get as many chances as you want to get it right
  17. i really like this grading system because it allows us students to grasp and understand the different concepts. i also like how if we dont feel prepaired to take a quiz we dont have to, or if we do poorly on a quiz we can redo it and get a better grade.
  18. I like that it gives us the ability to fully undestand something before we move onto a new topic. The only thing i really disklike about it is the line that differs a 3 or a 4. I think it does have an impact because everything in physics is conected so learning something fully helps us later in the units.
  19. I like this grading system because it allows the students to really understand the concepts. If we do not feel prepared to take a quiz then we don’t have to take it on the exact day it is planned for. Although I have only taken advantage of the abilty to retest once, I think it is very helpful because sometimes it takes a little longer for something to click for different people. I like the fact that you let us talk to you about our grade. That is very helpful.
  20. I definetly like the grading system for this class. I think my ability to retest on topics ive done poorly on really helps me to understand material. I also like how we are graded through our understanding of topics rather than points.
  21. i like this grading system. It lets us be graded on what we know at the end of the unit and not at the begining.
  22. I’m in full support of the grading system. It allows me to focus on actually learning the topic, instead of worrying about a quiz grade. I know that as long as I understand the unit, I can ultimately get the grade I feel I deserve.
  23. The grading system is my favorite part of this class, and why I am very seriously considering taking AP-C next year. Knowing that a quarter grade cannot be jeapordized by a poor single quiz relieves a level of stress that, in normal classes, would distract from the learning process.
  24. I like the grading system because it focuses on our understanding of the material rather than simply a number grade.
  25. I like the grading system for this class. I used to not like it, but I think it has been more beneficial to me in the long run. I just think that it should be more of a trend. For an example, you said that if you got a 1 then a 4, then it would be progress, but it seems like your just averaging them. And also, I don’t like how I need to retake an entire quiz if I only did bad on one learning goal.
  26. I really like the grading system and I think it is beneficial in that it greatly betters the learning environment. There is not as much pressure to perform and understand the material for big tests and people can simply learn at their own rates. I really like the ability to retest on goals because this way if you understand the material, even after the initial quiz, you can retest and prove your understanding for a better grade.
  27. I like the grading system for the most part. It makes me feel like i am being tested on my knowledge of a subject not just the memorization of facts.
  28. we can retake tests so we arte tested on knowing the stuff and it doesn’t matter when we know it.
  29. I like that we take things slowly and have the opportunity to retake quizzes / that you grade based on a comprehensive understanding. I think that it allows everyone, including myself, to learn in a less stressful environment which is overall conducive to and supportive of my learning style.
  30. I like the grading system very much it gives us the oppertunity to perform well later. Its good that we can retake the quiz’s because this might be beneficial to us if we do bad the first time.
  31. I like that we can have many chances to improve our grades and the end result is what counts the most, giving you room to improve. I don’t like that homework doesn’t count because I think that it could really improve my grade.

SBG Gala #1

The first ever Standards-Based Grading Gala has arrived!  It’s a collection of 20 blog posts about Standards-Based Grading (SBG) by teachers in a variety of disciplines.  Head on over to find great SBG reads, more great blogs to add to your reader, and more great teachers to network with on Twitter. Many thanks to Matt Townsley for organizing and hosting the gala at his MeTA musings blog!

For more thoughtful commentary on grading, see Rhett Allain’s grading posts over at Dot Physics. In Rhett’s latest post, Allegory of the Grade, he writes, “I have been thinking about grades lately and I am pretty sure they are dumb.”

SBG and Trust

In a recent blog post, Jason Buell writes about the foundation of trust in standards-based grading. Jason nails it, but I blew it.

Last year was the first time I used SBG. I didn’t grade homework. As the months passed, my AP Physics C students gradually did less and less homework. Why? I think they seemed to be searching for the balance between (1) How much work do they need to do and (2) The grade they want to get. After all, these are the brightest students in the school and probably never needed to do homework to learn and self-assess. In the past, they just did homework to get points.

By second quarter, they all stopped doing the homework . And they all failed the subsequent quizzes, meaning they weren’t proficient in most of the learning targets. Surely an intervention was required! So I broke the trust and made homework an entrance ticket for future quizzes. 80% of the homework complete allowed them to take the quiz. No homework , no quiz. Non-completers had to work on the homework during quiz time and then arrange an after-school time to take the quiz.

You know what happened? The situation became WORSE. Homework got done, but not for learning and self-assessment. Many were STILL not meeting learning targets because they approached homework the wrong way. The entrance ticket method gave my homework the undeserved reputation of busy work, despite being a carefully structured and scaffolded set of problems and assignments.

And then there were a few students who let everything slide to the end of the quarter. A quarter’s worth of homework was done hastily at the last minute and, of course, learning targets were not met.

So I admitted my mistake and revoked the 80% homework rule. Homework became completely optional again. But I had done permanent damage. While only a handful of students returned to doing homework for the proper reasons (and it showed on their assessments), the majority still did very little. I had not taught them trust and the value of meaningful homework.

It wasn’t until reading Jason’s post that I made the connection that I had broke trust and had not been good model. Thanks, Jason. I suspect next year will be much better!

My SBG Journey

(Update: Links fixed. Thanks @Mrs_LHenry!)

In my previous post, I started with an apology to my first-year students. (Can you tell I was raised Catholic?) Like many new teachers, I taught my students just as I was taught growing up. I used grades as rewards by giving extra credit for covering textbooks, filling out surveys, and turning in lab reports early. I used grades as punishment by taking away points for arriving late to class, leaving the lab area a mess, and turning in assignments late. The feedback I gave was limited: checks, Xs, or a point total. There was no chance for remediation. “You’ll just have to study harder next time and learn it right for the final.” I would say.

And I never thought twice about it.

But that’s changed now. Our focus is on learning. Feedback is more meaningful and remediation is unlimited. And by creating a classroom culture focused on trust and teamwork, students don’t need rewards or punishments or points.

SBG didn’t happen overnight. Kind of like walking into the cold ocean, one step at time.

I started with test corrections. Remediation was important, but I didn’t have time to make up new exams. I did it for a couple of years, but soon realized students would just copy off the kid with the right answer and not learn from their mistakes.

Then I read Dan Meyer’s manifesto “How Math Must Assess.” I simply broke up my major units into smaller skills. For example, my unit on “Motion” became two skills: “Constant Velocity Motion” and “Accelerated Motion.” And instead of giving long double-period exams, I gave short quizzes on each skill.

Bonus: I didn’t have to rewrite all my exams. I simply took my longer exams and broke them up into several quizzes. For extra remediation, I was fortunate to have Wizard Test Maker with a bank of old Regents exam questions, so making new quizzes was a snap.

Each quiz was 10 points. Each student had to take each quiz twice, for a total of 20 points per skill. There were quarterly cumulative exams to test for retention, which counted as several quizzes. The only way to remediate a quarterly exam was to do better on the Regents exam.

It wasn’t SBG, though, but it was a start. By allowing for remediation and having smaller quizzes instead of major exams, classroom climate improved dramatically. I was bummed when Regents exam scores stayed flat under my Dan-Meyer-inspired system, but the increase in student morale made it worth keeping. So I used it the following year.

But last June, I raided my schools professional development library for some summer reading. The three books I picked all talked about standards-based grading.

Learning about SBG was like learning Santa Claus wasn’t real; my whole world-view had shifted. I knew I had to implement SBG for the coming school year. As overwhelming as it seemed, I felt I would be doing a disservice to my students if I didn’t go SBG. I met with my principal to make sure I had her support, since it was unlike any grading system students or parents had seen before.

Now all that was left was to write the learning targets. Probably the easiest thing I did was to look at old exams and quizzes to see what I was testing for (which isn’t a new idea if you ascribe to Understanding by Design) and then match the questions to the goals. I also checked my state standards, my own lists of objectives I gave to students in previous years, and the College Board’s Science Standards for wording and completeness.

Each student tracked their own progress using a  2-pocket folder with prongs that was kept in the classroom along with their lab notebook. All the learning target sheets were 3-hole punched and put in the prongs. Students typically used the pockets to store old quizzes. In addition, there were progress reports students had to fill out mid-quarter and at quarter’s end.  I met with each student on the last day of the quarter to discuss grades and see if their self-assigned grade matched mine. My students really appreciated those conversations.

Now, this summer, I am ready to start tinkering again. I am moving to a tiered system where learning goals will be arranged according to difficulty within a topic (inspired by Jason Buell). In order to earn a “3” for a topic, students must be able to do all the level 1, 2, and 3 learning goals. The goals themselves will be graded on a binary basis (yes/no) rather than a 1-4 scale. This new system seeks to correct two problems:

(1) Some students had higher grades than their understanding because they were able to well on lots of simple skills (e.g., “I can calculate the kinetic energy of an object”) but had no clue on the major ideas (e.g., “I can use energy conservation to solve problems”). The tiered system should fix this.

(2) Sometimes I had difficulty assigning 1-4 scores. Sometimes I was inconsistent between students. Often, I never gave 3s. A 4 was for all correct. If a student did something wrong, it was because of some misconception, so that earned a 2. And a 1 was if they just wrote anything down. By using the binary yes/no system, I know I can be more consistent. Plus, I hope it drives more students to use remediation, rather than being complacent with a mediocre score.

That’s it for now! Here you can find all my SBG documents from last year. Revisions for next year will be there as well.

And here you can see all my students’ thoughts about my first year using SBG.

What has your SBG journey been like?