Category Archives: Standards-Based Grading

SBG Gala #4

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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:!/russgoerend/status/4983983427293185

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

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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!)

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!