I don’t know an eloquent way to begin so I’m going to come right out with what’s on my mind: some folks in the SBG community have really aggravated me lately (SBG stands for Standards Based Grading). Some have made me mad because they beat the drum in favor of SBG without being very helpful in actually implementing it in the classroom. My goal here is not to start a fight; rather this is a request, - a cry for help, in implementing improved grading practices.
To begin, I readily acknowledge that standards based grading is a superior system.
I readily acknowledge and do not hide behind the fact that I still work within a traditional grading system.
Why? Because it is the system I am given by my district. I simply cannot move to a 1-2-3-4 SBG system – period.
What I am trying to do instead is adopt a SBG mindset that makes the grades I give as meaningful as possible. What I need from the SBG community is assistance in that journey, not criticism. Some of the most vocal SBG proponents will declare that traditional grading is an inherently flawed system. Ok – great – fine – maybe, but it’s the system I work in.
The columns below outline some differences – or at least perceived differences - between SBG and traditional grading. (Table copied from a Littleton Public Schools document – the original can be found here )
Grades reflect current evidence of learning. The most recent assessment information is given higher priority or weight. Learning theory tells us that a student may start a grading period with little or no knowledge regarding a topic but end the grading period with a great deal of knowledge.
Grades are averaged with little consideration given to whether a student actually reached proficiency by the end of the trimester. Averaging early learning experiences with those later in the trimester compromises accurate communication of learning. It usually underestimates learning.
Non-academic factors such as effort and work habits are reported separately.
Grades on the report card reflect a mix of achievement and non-achievement factors.
Gradebook is organized by learning topics which are based on the grade level learner expectations: comprehension, word analysis in reading, or geometry, number sense, etc. in math.
Gradebook is organized by sources of information or grading tasks: quizzes, tests, homework, etc. This method for collecting assessment data makes it is difficult to discern strengths and weaknesses in a student’s learning.
Student work is assessed frequently – formatively. Assessment information is used to adjust instruction and to inform teachers on what students understand or have not learned. Report card grades are based on summative (end of unit demonstrations) or on most recent evidence of learning. Some scores go into the gradebook.
Almost everything each student does is given a score and every score goes into the final grade. All assessment data is cumulative and typically used to calculate a final summative mark for the report card.
Responses to student homework are focused on feedback, not grades. Homework is practice, not a demonstration of proficiency.
Homework assignments are averaged into the calculation of the report card grade.
Final grades are criterion referenced: teachers determine what the performance for each proficiency level (4,3,2, 1) entails, including descriptors for each level. Think rubrics.
Final grades are norm-referenced. They are often based on preset standards such as A=90-100%. B=80-89% etc.
Students are often compared with each other and may be graded on a curve.
Grades reflect deep understanding of concepts and application of learning. Defining proficiency requires that we are clear about what prerequisite skills and knowledge are required to understand complex concepts and needed to demonstrate mastery of learning targets.
Percentage correct determines the grade. Memorization or recall may receive greater emphasis than higher level thinking skills and transfer of learning to new problems or settings.
Report card grades are based on product criteria and demonstrations of learning at a particular point in time. Rubric scores give feedback on performance levels. Ex: Anchor papers: examples of student writing for each rubric score help teachers to determine proficiency levels: 4, 3, 2, 1.
Report card grades often reflect how students got there: effort or work habits, class participation, and on how much students have grown or improved. Teacher consensus on what constitutes proficient performance may be lacking in determining grading marks.
SBG- Grades reflect current evidence of learning. TG- Grades are averaged with little consideration given to whether a student actually reached proficiency by the end of the semester.
I believe this is an accurate statement of grades in many traditional classrooms. What it means to me is that teachers need to reflect seriously about what their grades represent. SBG is not a miracle pill. I can see teachers that still represent student learning poorly within that system as well.
I don’t disagree that this is true in many classrooms. I will confess it used to be true in mine. This is another case of the need for teacher PD and campus instructional leadership. There is no reason behavioral policy cannot be separated from grading policy in a traditional system. We have done a good job of that in our school. The Power of ICU http://poweroficu.com/ is a great resource for this idea.
You got me there ---- SBG is a clear winner on this one.
My students keep a folder in which we track their progress on each student expectation outlined in our state standards. The students know their strengths and weaknesses. Any remedial study is targeted specifically on their areas of weakness. Parents are welcome to review their progress at any time. It is not documented on their grade report card. I wish it was.
This one is an example of a declaration made by some SBG folks that frankly pi$$e$ me off. Formative assessment is a HUGE part of my teaching. I devoted an entire website to literacy skills and formative assessment http://stricklandliteracy.weebly.com/ Formative assessment is not the exclusive domain of SBG. It is an essential practice of effective teachers. Grading practices do not determine assessment practices. Grading practices should correlate closely with and accurately reflect assessments. Grades in any system will only be as good as the assessments that determine the grade.
We should discuss formative assessment – often and vigorously. I do not believe it to be a valid standards based vs. traditional grading argument. Do many teachers put unnecessary and meaningless grades in their gradebooks? Yes, but that is an instructional leadership issue and PD issue more than a fault of a grading system.
This again is more an argument of good vs. poor grading rather than SBG vs. TG. With technology, many homework assignments can be found that allow students to work for mastery. In my traditional gradebook I generally have three homework grades: 100, 75, and missing. A 100 is representative that the student has demonstrated acceptable mastery of the material. A 75 represents minimum acceptable proficiency of the material. A “missing” means that the student has not YET completed the assigned material at an acceptable level. A student may improve their grade at any time by demonstrating the next higher level of understanding. Is the 100, 75, and “missing” arbitrary? Yes, but not meaningless. Those numbers are informative to the parents and students. I think it works.
Whoa there cowboy – you’re beginning to insult me again. If rubrics are used and assessments are well thought out, there is no reason TG cannot reflect the student’s performance against criteria. By the same token, there is nothing to prevent a lazy teacher from assigning grades that compare students in an SBG system.
Ok, now I’m being insulted again for no good reason. Those two differences exist – absolutely – no denying the fact, but again, it is not a SBG vs. TG difference. If anyone implies that the grade a student receives in my classroom is shallow and in no way represents their knowledge, then that person and I have a serious problem.
My point is that we shouldn’t be arguing about who’s system is best. The talking heads and gurus out there need to recognize that many of us are trying to do the best we can within the constraints of the system we work in. I hope those in the SBG community that possess experience will help the rest of us find ways to make grading as meaningful as possible. Let’s have long discussions about formative assessment. Let’s discuss how to make sure our grades are criterion based. Let’s discuss how to separate behavior and grades.
Let’s have long discussions about HOW to achieve those goals. Stop telling me what I’m doing is bad. Have a conversation with me to improve my practices and policies. And while we are having our conversations, don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t have a good answer; I’ll respect you more for that. Sometimes when an “expert” doesn’t have the answer, we get handed a reading list of books written by all of the recognized experts. Please don’t do that – I know BS when I hear it and I recognize when someone is sidestepping a question that is difficult to answer.
Although I have no data to support this opinion, I believe that the majority of teachers are required to keep a traditional gradebook. Some teachers may have the freedom to choose their grading system. I know many districts stipulate certain grading practices. It would be helpful for those engaged in online discussions to remember there are vast regional differences in policies. Don’t be too hard on folks that are tied to those policies. Help them find effective solutions that work around those constraints.
Why I never have tissues.
So, do you understand why I never have tissues in my room? I don’t give grades for tissues - so the students don’t bring them. They take them to the teachers that do exchange tissues for grades. Just for the record, I know many other teachers that keep a traditional gradebook that feel the same way I do. Please stop lumping us all together. I may just walk into your classroom someday and judge you by the number of tissue boxes you have on your shelves – and that wouldn’t be fair would it?
Please post any comments or thoughts you might have. Please remember the goal of this post is not to begin an us vs. them arguement, but rather to encourage a more constructive conversation about effective grading practices.