Wisdom Begins with Wonder

Standards-based grading 1st Trimester post-game

I have just completed my first trimester of using standards-based grading (#SBG) after taking a 2 year break from it. Now it’s time to step to the podium for the post-game press conference.

Opening Statement:

This time around, it has gone much better. No major student complaints, no parent “sit-downs” where they are mentally fitting me for concrete galoshes, and no suggestions from administrators or school board members that all teachers adopt #SBG or none do it. Now I will take your questions.

“Coach! Can you give us three things you liked about this trimester?”

3 Likes:

#1 – Keep it simple, stupid

One of my biggest frustrations with #SBG my first time trying it was the complexity of the grade book. Score entry and task/ assessment tracking was awkward. The Power Law made grades mysterious. Averaging assessments to reach a standard score was even worse (and counter to the ethos of #SBG). District mandated grading software made all of this even worse. This time around, I have better software and I went with my adaptation of Frank Noschese’s K.I.S. SBG. This has worked much better.

#2 – The “eye test”

Students’ final grades were much in line with my informal assessment of their skills, knowledge and effort. I’ve always felt that a good teacher could give his students a very accurate grade without any scoring, points, standards, etc. We do all of that for the consumption of students, parents, administrators, etc. so that there is perceived fairness and objectivity to the grades. Of course, grades are still subjective no matter how you arrive at them.

#3 – Winning hearts and minds

Quite a few students have caught on to the system and have begun using the language of “meeting standard” and “reassessment.” I wish I could say that they all get it and they all love it but that would be a lie. They’re coming around, though, just not nearly as fast as I’d like (isn’t that always the case?). The real success has been the number of colleagues that have expressed interest in coming over to the #SBG Rebel Alliance (I can’t picture #SBG as the Dark Side). One has even decided to take the #SBG plunge for 2nd trimester!

“Thanks coach. Now can you give us 3 dislikes about your 1st trimester’s grading efforts?”

3 Dislikes:

#1 – How many points is this worth?

Yes, I still get this question and, yes, I still hate it. There are still too many students who really don’t get #SBG or how their grade is calculated. I need to get better at communicating the system more clearly, quickly and effectively. Most likely, I need to simplify what I tell them and dole it out in smaller bites on a need-to-know basis. Luckily, I get another chance at this this trimester!

#2 – “Mister, we take too many quizzes!”

The kids who have said this to me are right. I have been quiz-happy this trimester. For someone who used quizzes sparingly in the first 7 years of teaching, I’ve become too dependent on quizzes as my primary type of formal assessment. One of my main goals for 2nd trimester is to do more informal assessments (observations, conversations, discussions, whiteboarding, writing prompts, etc.) and to gather records of said assessments to use for grading purposes. I have decided that quizzes do certainly have a time and place in my classroom, though.

#3 – Grain size

This dislike is in reference to the standards I used for grading purposes 1st trimester. I struggled through much of the trimester to effectively triangulate the ideal “grain size” for my graded standards. In other words, some standards (e.g., Plate Tectonics) were too broad and actually included several different key parts (Causes of Plate Tectonics, Effects of Plate Tectonics, Plate Boundaries, Layers of the Earth). Other standards became too narrow (Microscope Skills) and could only be assessed very directly.

“Coach – How would you assess yourself for the 1st trimester?”

Overall, I’m giving myself a solid 2.5 (out of 4) for 1st trimester’s #SBG efforts. I have demonstrated basic understanding of #SBG and have applied the skill with partial effectiveness.

“What are your goals for next trimester?”

I hope to leap to a 3.5 or 4 next trimester by improving my communication to students, diversifying my assessments and honing my standard “size.”

“Okay, coach, that sounds like it would earn you a solid 3 for ‘meeting standard.’ Just how do you plan to exceed the standard?”

I hope to successfully mentor at least one colleague into the #SBG team. Beyond that, I plan to make more of an effort to spread the word to my larger base of colleagues outside of the science department. I work on a staff of over 100, so there are many opportunities to find willing converts!

I borrowed this image from this post. Thanks!


7 comments ↓

  • #   Leif Segen on 12.08.12 at 11:52 pm     

    Have you seen ThreeRing to potentially help with dislike #2?


  • #   Mr. Rice on 12.09.12 at 12:05 pm     

    ThreeRing looks interesting. What does it do for me that Evernote can’t?


  • #   mrsegen on 12.09.12 at 12:26 pm     

    A ThreeRing developer is considering API options for integrating with http://main.BlueHarvestFeedback.com, but maybe that’s possible with Evernote?


  • #   Lee Meadows on 12.10.12 at 2:34 pm     

    I’ve been lost under my little Lee rock, but I poked my head out just in time to see this go by on Twitter. Good to hear you thinking about teaching again. I always learn from you.


  • #   Ms Q on 12.18.12 at 7:32 pm     

    I followed your blog before. Am glad to have found it again. And with this post you have finally sold me (ok, I was already sold, but wading through the HOW TO) on SBG! :)


  • #   Mr. Rice on 02.02.13 at 2:43 pm     

    I’m glad to provide a model for those who are intrigued by SBG. I’d love to hear how your experience with SBG goes, or if you have any questions.


  • #   Mr. Rice on 02.02.13 at 2:45 pm     

    I keep saying I need to blog more often. My problem has been finding a way to transition from just sharing my thoughts and opinions on things to reflecting on my practice.

    I want to use my blog as a tool to improve my teaching, not just as a time sink. Easier said than done!


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