Why I dumped SBG (and why you probably shouldn’t)

I jumped on the SBG (standards based grading) express 2 years ago.  My main reason for going to SBG was an extreme dissatisfaction with the grading status quo.  I felt like I was doing kids a disservice with points and weighted categories and the like.

So I dove headfirst into SBG along with 2 of my coworkers.  We had read Marzano’s Classroom Grading that Works and a few other articles about SBG on the web.  That wast the extent of our SBG training.

We immediately got big push back from the “old-school” parents in our district.  We actually had to hold a 2 hour sit down meeting with several of them.  It was uncomfortable (and a bit bizarre).  I’m still not sure exactly what they wanted.

Anyway, 2 years of SBG led me to both love and hate it.

I loved replacing old evidence of student learning with new.  I loved focusing grades on learning and nothing else.  I loved getting rid of the grading of meaningless work.

I hated that kids never really understood their grades.  No matter how much I explained it to them, many never really got the system.  That meant that I was giving them grades that they really didn’t understand.   Shoot, sometimes I didn’t understand the way the computer tabulated them.

What I really hated was trying to do SBG in the awkward, clunky, slow online gradebook that we are mandated to use.  The system (Skyward) has a standards-based gradebook but it really wasn’t functional.  We had to create a bunch of weird workarounds within the system to make it work.  Even after that, the system still insisted on averaging their grades.

Mainly, I dumped SBG because it didn’t fit great with Project-Based Learning.  Because students are only receiving grades for their projects – grades they give themselves – there are not enough assessments or reassessment options for SBG.  That being said, I am keeping a shadow gradebook (in EasyGrade Pro) in which I’m using very subjective SBG.  This is only for me to see.  I’m considering it a bit of action research on my UNgrading practices as compared to SBG.

Obviously, I’m very happy with UNgrading and strongly believe it’s the right way to go.  However, many of you out there aren’t ready to make that leap yet.  Until then, SBG is a nice brigdge.

As if I have time to keep up 2 gradebooks… and my head explodes.

11 thoughts on “Why I dumped SBG (and why you probably shouldn’t)

  1. Online gradebooks will be the death of creativity in teaching. Yours is one of several posts that I’ve encountered lately that describes having to work around the systems schools impose on us for grading our students. I personally get around it by flagging the standards-based grades in my online gradebook as not being in the calculated average and then having a single teacher-entered column that represents what I think the students grade is, based on their performance on the standards. Its my way of taking my subjective SBG standards scores online for parents to see without actually having to rely on the online gradebook to do the thinking for me. It seems to be working so far except the online gradebook shows my 3’s on a 4 point scale as 75% and 2’s as 50%, neither of which is an accurate representation of the grade. I’ve been training students and some parents to ignore the percentages.
    Don’t know if that’s possible in your gradebook, but just an idea.

  2. I hear ya, man. I use Easy Grade Pro’s standards tab and make progress reports for families, online too. We too have to post midterm and final “grades” on Skyyuckward. So this term I’m having students self assess and reflect by choosing what grade they want to see on Skyyuckward and explain why they want that grade. I’m pointing out to students that the feedback they get from me and from each other everyday is what’s important and that even the SBG progress report is more informative than their single “grade.” On the Easy Grade Pro SBG progress report I use words and numbers. Basically want families to know if I’ve seen evidence of understanding or if I still need more. Easy Grade Pro’s Power Law thing also beats averaging. It’s all a work in progress. I’m learning as I go along. :) Really glad to have folks like you to learn from too!

  3. nice post Tyler. I’ve got Powergrade and yeah, I basically fight it all year. I leave the letter grades out until they’re actually getting sent home as well, which is the first progress report about 2 months in. I’m MS though so we don’t have to constantly worry about sports eligibility and such. This year was the first I got a complaint about that (from a parent who’s a HS science teacher).

    The only thing I’d disagree with is the SBG doesn’t fit with PBL idea. My interest in PBL was one of the reasons I moved to an SBG system. Although I haven’t been able to wrap my head entirely on PBL implementation, and your blog has helped here, it seems to me that the core reason for doing PBL is the big ideas that transfer across each project.

    My PBL weakness is going to show here but perhaps something like – “Identifying various possible solutions to a problem, weigh the pros and cons of each solution.” This would be a standard across all projects and would be something students would improve on over time. At first they’d probably only be able to brainstorm a few ideas. Then they’d be able to come up with a few pros/cons. Then perhaps a defensible reason for choosing their approach. So you’d have a few standards that would be relevant for all or most of your projects right?

  4. Chris,

    Yeah, I tried a form of that last year. Kept getting calls like, “why does Johnny have an F (2/4) for blahblahblah?” Got several complaints that my grades were too hard to understand, both from parents and from kids.

    I do get what you’re saying, though.

  5. Alfonso,

    That’s an idea… except that I do fear the impact of giving grades along with feedback. I’m trying to be pure right now with the UNgrading. More feedback, less grades, kids determine their own grades. So far, so good.

    If I’m ever told I have to go back to grading, I’ll probably do something along the lines of what you’re talking about.

  6. Jason,

    I get what you’re saying about PBL. In some ways it makes sense. Some reasons it wasn’t working for me:

    1) I do really long term projects. Like 4-6 weeks. That means there are only a few projects per semester.

    2) Some projects are the only time the kids will encounter a given content standard (say, Cell Structure and Function) all year. That leaves little chance for them to reassess (they always could but my students almost never did).

    3) I really want the grades to be about the project and not other things along the way. And I want the projects to be inquiry based. In other words, the kids are doing good science, and they’re meeting state standards. Not all kids are attempting to reach the same standards, though. That makes the grade book even more confusing.

    4) Many projects address 10-12 standards (3-4 content standards, plus inquiry, systems, application). Especially if I’m carrying year long standards throughout (like, Use Data/ Evidence to support conclusions).

    5) The thing that I never figured out to my satisfaction, was this: when I assess a year long standard, do I grade them on what they should be able to do now (based on what I’ve taught them)? If so, a kid may have a 4/4 for a standard like “Design a Controlled Experiment” in October. And yet, he’s nowhere near where I want him to be in June for that standard. Okay, so if that doesn’t work – then I grade him on where I want him to be to truly master the standard. That means he gets a 1.5/4 in October and he has a C in my class for 1st semester (I’m exaggerating but I hope you get the point).

    6) Most of all, it really bothers me to be sitting in judgement of kids. On top of that, I’m acknowledging how subjective it really is. This year, I’m really enjoying sitting and talking with kids about their learning and giving them to the power to determine their own grades.

  7. Pingback: TEACHING|chemistry » Blog Archive » Standards Based Grading Gala #3

  8. You might check out activegrade.com, which was built to order for SBG. I think it’d work great for a pbl class using sbar.

  9. Pingback: Standards-based grading welcomes me back with open arms! — Wisdom Begins with Wonder

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