SBG and Parent-Teacher Conferences

Although it took a while to explain my SBG scheme [1] in addition to my Participation Points setup [2], parents seemed to be really appreciative of this grading system.

Two parents of different students asked some very specific questions about SBG, which made me glad that I had reflected on these issues (through blogging) before the year started.  Here are some of their questions, which I believe I answered satisfactorily.

  1. Where did these standards come from? I created them based on the materials left behind from the previous teacher.  I also talk with the other math teacher (who teaches the subject before and after mine) to figure out which topics I should focus on more and which I can leave behind to go deeper with the important topics.  Unfortunately there’s no Common Core [3] for Precalculus content, so I’m left to figure out what’s important for students as they move on to Chemistry.
  2. Are 4’s indicators of perfection or understanding? It depends on the topic, but overall I strive for understanding rather than perfection. In the case of something like multiplication tables, demonstrating understanding is perfection, and I have my standards labeled “F” for “Foundational” and “C” for “Conceptual”.  I’m much stricter when it comes to “perfection” on the foundational standards (such as memorizing their multiplication tables) because not having those down really well can slow students down later in the class on the harder topics.
  3. Do you average all of their grades when they retake quizzes, or do you just take the last quiz grade? I actually do neither: I average the last two grades the student has received, and there are a few reasons for this.  First, I think that students should know and retain knowledge to demonstrate an understanding of a topic.  This discourages cramming and emphasizes/rewards practice in small chunks. Secondly, I also believe that one bad day shouldn’t tank a students’ grades, so I want the students to be rewarded for doing well early on in the class, but I also don’t want bad grades to hurt them at the end of the year if they are willing to put in the time to really learn the material.  Averaging the last two grades finds this balance and I believe, so far, has worked very well.
  4. What are the translated percentages for a 1, 2, 3, and 4? It depends on the class.  For your student’s Chemistry class, virtually every student in our school is required to take this class, so I believe in making it possible for every student to achieve a passable grade.  Not every student will pass with an A, but if they work hard, I think every student should pass.  Because of that, a 3 in that class is approximately an 80%, whereas in Precalculus, a 3 is 75%. In Precalculus, all the students are high-achievers that, perhaps, haven’t been too challenged in math class yet, so I’m demanding that they really understand this material in order to get an A. To do that, I’ve dropped a 4 down to a 98%, which requires them to get many more 4’s than 3’s in order to get a perfect A.  This forces the students to review topics they didn’t do really well in, which is great because they have the ability and mindset to do that and get really good at math. [4]
  5. How does this compare to the letter grades or a student having a 82% in a class, where they would know that they have to work harder? I believe that this system is better than just giving a blanket grade because it shows students not just how much they have to work on, but what they have to work on. If I was allowed, I wouldn’t even change this into an A, B, C letter grade because this information is so much more specific and says exactly how well they’re doing in a class. However, because I’m required to change this into a letter grade, I use the certain percentages to push students to their limits in this class and really help them grow.

Here are some of the comments I heard from parents about both of these systems. (All paraphrased because I can’t remember exactly what every parent said.)

I really like this system, I think it is designed to help the students out.

I wish there was something like this when I came through and took math and science.

You really have this setup to encourage the students to do well, this is great for all the students.

Needless to say, I was very happy to hear these comments about my grading system, and I hope that this is, ultimately, for the benefit of the students.  One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that I need to give more opportunities for self-practice and self-assessment in Physics.  In that class I just assume that if students do their HW, then they’ll understand the material, but some of the students are so low that they really need more individual help and more resources than I’ve given them.  (No, I haven’t handed out textbooks, and one parent thought that her son was lying to her when he told her that!) That’s something that will certainly come with experience and years teaching a subject, but hopefully I can work on providing that for this year’s class.

[1] Quick rundown: Teacher-initiated assessments (projects, quizzes, or labs), followed by student-initiated re-assessments (if necessary).

[2] Quick rundown: Students choose how to earn 30% of their grade.  Options includes homework, working on the warm-up in a timely manner, practice problems, difficult challenges, blog reflections, speaking up in class, coming to tutoring, and many others.

[3] This question & discussion occurred with a parent who happened to be a middle school teacher at our school, so she knew all about the Common Core.

[4] Part of me really wanted to tell this parent that “Percentages don’t matter!! What matters is how much your child understands, so you and they should focus on that, not on whether you have an A, B, or C!!”, but I also wanted to defend this system, so I was kinda shamefully excited to explain that.

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1 Comment

Filed under Teaching

One response to “SBG and Parent-Teacher Conferences

  1. this is really the key here. I enjoyed our conversations about this, and definitely want to chat more about what you thought about this so far, and where you want to go from here!

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