Recognizing the merits of such a system, you would think I implemented SBG as soon as possible, right? Well – no. The problem is that our school is firmly entrenched in the traditional model of grading. What I want to share is the system I have found that feels like SBG, but looks like traditional grading. The best endorsement I have is that my students have enthusiastically adopted my system.
So here’s my approach to grading as influenced by the SBG philosophy:
I teach physics. I tell my students at the beginning of the year that physics is a contact sport – they have to dig into the concepts and do the math. My daughter took physics a couple of years before I took over as the high school physics teacher. Watching her work through the year made me aware of a couple of huge problems.
First, students cheat on worksheets. A few do the work and the rest copy – that’s the truth. Therefore worksheets are essentially useless. The other problem is in a traditional setting the lesson cycle is lesson today, worksheet tonight, repeat. Students are not given TIME to absorb lessons before being given a new assignment.
I use the Minds On Physics internet modules regularly.
These modules present the students with an opportunity to struggle with a concept until they achieve a certain level of mastery. Using the modules a student receives a “code.” Gold means mastery, Silver means proficient, no code means try again.
Students are assigned modules on Monday. Their codes are due on Friday – no excuses. They have some time in class to work, but mostly work on the modules outside of class. (We spend class time doing hands-on activities, but that's a different story) The students admittedly have a love/hate relationship with the modules. They love the extended time for completion and the opportunity to work asynchronously. They love being able to work until they receive a gold code – whether it takes 1 or 20 tries. They get a grade of 100 for a gold code, 75 for silver, or a requirement to keep working.
What the students hate is not being able to “play school” and fake their way through the modules. The way they are set up, they can’t sponge from someone else. What a win!
I do still hand out problem sets. I no longer grade them. The purpose of the problems is to make students aware of the types of problems they will encounter on the district approved tests. To provide accountability, I hand out the problems sets on Monday – there is a quiz on Friday made from problems taken from their homework. These quizzes are not rigorous. If students do their work they do well on the quizzes. I don’t offer “do over’s” on the quizzes.
I follow a district approved curriculum. I am required to follow the scope and sequence. I am allowed flexibility in lesson delivery as long as I use the 5E model at the approved level of rigor. The hard part is I must administer the summative assessments that come with the curriculum.
The problem is how to administer the tests and yet follow a SBG philosophy. After several “beta” trials, the students and I worked out a system we can live with.
When I print the approved tests, I mark each question with the number associated with the student expectation it represents. Example: PHY.6 (E)
The students already know what the S.E. is about, such as: describe how the macroscopic properties of a thermodynamic system such as temperature, specific heat, and pressure are related to the molecular level of matter, including kinetic or potential energy of atoms.
For each test, I prepare a 5 question assessment for each S.E. tested on the exam. After the test – on their own time – students have an opportunity to take a quiz over the S.E. where they lost points. Only 5 questions? Well, that’s the average number per S.E. on an exam of 20 to 25 questions.
If a student scored 60% on the original exam and 90% on the subsequent reassessment, they receive the point difference added to their exam grade. Why not? They demonstrated improved mastery on a new assessment. My only restriction is I will not allow a student’s re-score to rise above a 90. The reason is I want to reward students that score well on the first assessment.
In Texas, class rank and Valedictorian/Salutatorian status is a big deal. This policy keeps me out of trouble.
Students keep their tests in folders in my classroom and track their mastery of the student expectations they have been tested over through the year. That gives at least some documentation of their progress through the course.
The students have embraced this system. It may not be a pure SBG system, but it does offer students an opportunity to achieve good grades. It does avoid having an argument over points and encourages a discussion about what they know or don’t know. This system eliminates the problem of cheating on mindless worksheets. If you are bound to a traditional points based grading system, you might give some of these ideas a try.