Friday, July 14, 2017

Standard based grading: the why

Every summer for the past two years or so, I've said to myself "I really need to start using standard based grading". Well, this summer I have started working on actually implementing a SBG system in my sixth grade classroom. (I used SBG for a semester or two when I taught college and liked the approach.)

If you are not familiar with SBG, the absolute best place to get a detailed approach is Robert J. Marzano's book. But, if you want a quick introduction, the websites I found most helpful were

In a nutshell, SBG means you grade students primarily or exclusively on their performance on standards --- not on participation, not on homework, not on projects, not even on amorphous quizzes or exams. Your gradebook consists of a list of standards, and the student's grade depends on how she or he did on each standard. Practically every system I've seen involves multiple assessments of each standard with the opportunity for a student to request a reassessment.

So, why am I doing this?

I want my grading system to be transparent. My sixth graders can have little to no idea why they have the grade they do (especially when I give different weights to different assignments). Moreover, if they are struggling, my best suggestions have been to go back and turn in missed homework (which often results in little meaningful effort) or prepare better for the next exam (which may have no connection to the previous exam). I want to be able to tell students and parents that (for example) "You have that C because you have not mastered decimal multiplication and ordering rational numbers", not "You have that C because you did poorly on the last two exams".

I want my students to take on more responsibility for their learning. This is actually my main reason for the change; it's just that it's hard for students to take responsibility for their grade if they don't understand what their grade means. So, transparency is the first step. The second step is giving the students options to reassess a standard to improve their grade. Each standard should be assessed two of three times (and I will probably take the highest score), but if a student is still doing poorly, I want him or her to be able to take the initiative to try again.

I get some automatic differentiation. I hadn't expected this benefit, but as I started writing up problems for each standard (more on that later), I realized I was creating easy, medium, and hard problems. My advanced kids will probably never see the easy problems. My lowest kids may see only the easy problems. 

There are some negatives that I foresee. The biggest is that this approach doesn't really have room for projects or more open-ended assessments. That's something I will be grappling with during the first few months. But, I think I'm willing to trade projects for more transparency and responsibility.

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