I am not perfect. Teachers are not perfect. Students are not perfect.
Then why are we relying on a grading scheme that requires perfection? One chance to take the test, one chance to turn in homework, one chance to rule them all – wait, maybe I’m getting confused with the One Ring of Sauron? But, in all seriousness, if grades are supposed to reflect how much a student understands a subject, does it matter when they understand it? Does it matter if they didn’t get it the first, third, or nth time? Does it matter if they can’t explain it with words but can draw a picture?
To me, it doesn’t.
(It doesn’t to Shawn Cornally either, who was my major blog inspiration for making this change.)
Standards-based grading is hot right now. That is, assessing student understanding of each concept as opposed to a more points-based, homework and test score system. Many school districts are switching over to standards-based grading in a formal way, and it can be daunting, especially using Marzano’s 0-4 scale. Even more daunting: what if you are standards-based curious but working in a sea of traditional graders? As a teacher, it’s incredibly difficult to retool a decades (or centuries) long grading scheme in your single classroom, but it is possible to make it fit. Even if just for a unit!
I’m here to explain how I implemented standards as a teacher that just got hired at a school where standards-based grading (SBG from here on out) is not the norm. Maybe you too can make it work at a place that requires quarterly report cards and consistent grades, where students are used to “fiending for points” and parents expect to see consistent 10/10s when they check their student’s scores online.
Here we go. 〉
First, SBG-ing requires one to have standards. Some classes have specific standards ready-made, some take them from the book, and some need to be created. As a chemistry teacher, I am attempting to bridge the NGSS and what is expected on the SAT-II subject test or by college professors teaching first year general chemistry. I created my own student-friendly “I can” statements. Here are a few of the standards from last semester’s Unit 4 that covers elements and atoms:
STANDARD 4.1 MATTER @ THE MICRO-SCALE: NAMES & SYMBOLS
I know the names and symbols of the most common elements.
STANDARD 4.4 MATTER @ THE MICRO-SCALE: SUBATOMIC PARTICLE NUMBERS
I can determine the number of subatomic particles in an atom of a given element of any isotope or any state of charge.
This is the common language of our classroom, “Miss Brown? I’m having trouble on Standard 4.4, why does that mass number change with isotopes again?” Standards and learning objectives are now a basic part of the teaching/learning routine in our room, and I put each of these standards in as an assignment in the grade book, just like classic homework grading. This part shouldn’t be a big jump for a new SBG-er or for students, it’s how you assess those standards where the change begins.
Almost every Friday, my students take a chemistry assessment. If they learned it that week, it’s on the assessment; which can often be a quick turnaround for letting understanding sink in. BUT, and here’s the kicker, they will see the same standard again on the next assessment, and then the next. I call it the rolling three*. They get three chances, in a row, to demonstrate understanding. Talk about practicing a growth mindset! I then take the most recent score and that’s what gets recorded in the grade book.
Now, imagine you’re a 16 year-old: maybe the day of that third assessment on Standard 5.6 you argued with your best friend, maybe you had a softball game the night before and you were on the road back from Spokane until 11:30pm. For whatever reason, you weren’t on top of your Chemistry game; you got a five and demonstrated no understanding of the standard.
Don’t worry, re-assess!
Students can re-assess any standard any day outside of class, but only one per day. Some students are better at talking out an answer, some are better at drawing, some just need to be out of a formal testing situation, I take all kinds for the reassessment phase. I especially love this part for students that need more time to memorize, I believe that knowing elements and symbols is important (hence Standard 4.1) but you shouldn’t be punished if you can’t get them all the first few weeks of class.
You might be thinking, ‘this sounds like a lot of work’ and in the planning phases, it is. But honestly, grading these assessments is simple. Instead of parsing out points and subtracting one for sig figs and one for units, I’m able to look at overall student understanding of a concept.
Here’s how it works…
On each standard, students can get a range of scores:
5: You show no evidence of standard understanding.
6: I call this one the glimmer. There’s a glimmer of knowledge in there, but you’re still lacking skills.
8: You get it, but can’t apply it to new situations or manipulate the concept.
9: Almost mastery, you just made a little mistake. The class voted on introducing a 9 to our scale since they were getting frustrated with getting 8s when they forgot to carry the one.
10: Mastery. You can manipulate, and think creatively with this standard.
This is different from Marzano’s 0-4 scale and I planned it that way. To fit this into a traditional grading systems where students are used to 90 – 100% being in the A range and so on, it is easy for them to associate the number with where they stand and it fits in well with a traditional grade book.
OUTCOMES (SO FAR)
I’ll admit, I was nervous to try out SBG, especially my first year at a new school, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I believe that my grading system is flexible, fair, and puts control in the hands of students. Where I used to have students fiending for an extra point to give them an A on that unit test, now I have students asking me for extra problems to make sure that they really get it. Instead of being able to ignore a bad grade on a test, because they “can’t do anything to fix it,” they write notes to themselves on their tests reminding themselves what to work on for next time.
Is it perfect? Nope. But standards-based grading has given me and my students room to fail, and more importantly, room to grow.
*Shout out to Jan Estep at Pullman High School for naming the “rolling three.”
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