Standards Based Grading shift

I hopped in with both feet. With the writings of Dan, Shawn and Jason in my mind I took off for the summer. Ferry riding through the Greek Islands did a lot to help me forget school and the sneaking suspicion that a major revamping of my teaching loomed in the near future, but returning to Taiwan moved the process to critical level. The kids began in a short period and I needed to get my act together! Fundamentally, I was sold. Practically, I was a bit scared at the work involved and the possibility of moving further from the teaching norm. Could I just dabble and try out one class? This would be a bit like putting a toe in the cold waters of the Pacific. There’s plenty of time to go for the big swim, right?

Being completely sold was my downfall. I’ve always struggled with traditional grading practices. Where do the percentages come from? Should homework be 15% or 20%? What about the student who knows the content but doesn’t do the work (likely bored out of her mind…)? Finding more people out there with a system that made sense gave me the nudge to make a whole-sale switch to a version of standards based grading.

So, the work began. Two different models seem to exist out in the SBG world. One was to break out course content into a set of skills that students show mastery over. This was quite appealing to my math class. The second model was to group several standards into various topics. For science, it made more sense for me to go this route. I think that it helps students work towards developing connections and increasing the sophistication of their thinking. Math followed – I don’t think that I could have worked on two different SBG flavors at the same time.

Jason then suggests creating a series of scales used for assessment. This has shifted a bit as I keep working to explain to students my system. The current conversation puts the scale like this:

1 = No evidence of learning (I really don’t have a good reason for starting at 1 instead of 0)

2 =  Still working on developing a base knowledge

3 = Level of base understanding. As a student, I know the vocabulary associated with the topic. I can label and identify general diagrams. Input in = input out. Students can typically find the necessary information in bold text.

4 = Concept level. Using the words and general level of understanding in L3, students explain concepts. They connect ideas relating to what we have discussed in class.

5 = Go beyond what was directly taught in class.

The shift to the topic scale has made the struggles worth it. Written assessments are keyed to these levels and it is easy for me to determine the level of understanding of students. Gone are the days of seeing that a student scored 83% on an assessment and having to wonder what he really knows or what he needs help on. Students get their feedback according to what they need to know in the course, not how they scored on particular assignments.


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