First Year into SBG: a Summary

This past year was my first year fully immersed in SBG (Standards Based Grading), and I notice that I do the most thinking/reflecting near the end of the year, but before the year is quite over (aka NOW). Since I’m motivated, I’m going to cement some of my thoughts by posting them here, especially by looking at what went wrong.

Problem: Bad/Ugly Standards

I was extremely inconsistent in my creation of standards/learning targets. Yes, I sat down before the year started and created a document for each of my classes (well, okay, I stole nearly all my physics ones from Kelly O’Shea) but I also wanted the standards to be “dynamic” and adaptive to my students’ needs. Because of this, I created some really crappy standards.

Some standards were just stupid. I wanted to draw students’ attention to the fact that they need to be careful about how they approach the Gas Law problems in Chemistry, so I made a separate standard for just selecting the right way to start the problem. Seriously. I called it “8.4 Identifying the Correct Law”.

Solution: Better Standards (?)

This summer I’m planning on sitting down and studying some states’ standards (CCSS doesn’t really go all the way up to Precalculus, and it doesn’t get specific with Chemistry and Physics). This has already led to me initiating conversations with the Calculus teacher, which is good.

For another thing, I’m not going to separate a standard from “application of a standard”. That just increases the segmentation of math which is already a problem. All “application” will be included in the standard, perhaps sometimes defined at a “Mastery” level, though I need to be careful about that and consider standard by standard.

Problem: Students Unsure of their “Grade”

Yes, yes, I know that part of the beauty of SBG is that students shouldn’t be fixated on a single big (absurdly averaged) grade, and believe me, I said “no” to every student who walked in wanting to know what their parents would see when the progress report came out. (“Do you have a Mastery in every standard? No? Then go study!”)

But this came back to bite me in the butt when one student, just before a sport-eligibility-changing Quarter, asked if he was passing. At just a quick glance, the grades looked “good enough” to me, but I found out later that, according to the calculations I had setup, he was not. I felt bad having told him he was passing so after I explained the situation, I gave him the minimum passing grade, but told him he wasn’t going to be so fortunate at the end of the semester.

Solution: “Essential” and “Secondary” Standards

I actually stole this idea from Kelly as well, so go there and read that for a much better explanation. Basically, all standards are either “Essential” or “Secondary”. In order to be passing, they must be passing 100% of the “Essential” standards (easy for them to check, right?).

This also creates a way for me to limit my assessments and focus students on getting the basics first. Students who haven’t passed a basic standard (if I’m on top of my game) won’t be allowed to take the next quiz with everyone else. They’ll be re-taking their previous assessment (after much intervention and communication to parents to assure me they’re studying/practicing).

After this, I’ll make some simple calculation & actually share it with students so if they really care to know exactly what they have, they can figure it out themselves. Maybe.

Problem: Students Didn’t See HW as Important/Essential Practice

I especially failed them in Physics. The curriculum dragged on in that class much, much longer than it should have (almost 1.5 times as long!) and I ran out of time in Precalculus as a result of the same problem.

Solution: Fewer Standards & More “non-counting” Assessments

I’ve already explained how I’ve combined (removed) many of my more ridiculous standards. True, there’s not less material to cover, but if I can hone my assessments to be more specific, then I can

I know, I know: more assessments seems like it would take more time, but I think if I can give immediate feedback assessments (I plan on using GradeCam for preassessments and mid-week 5-minute checkups), students would see where they are and whether they’re prepared for an assessments.

After much internal strife, I’ve also decided to remove Participation Points from my classes. Even though Participation points let students choose how to achieve their grade in one sense, it also allowed them to get credit for things that didn’t necessarily improve their understanding. I’m worried (and students have voiced this to me) that they may be less motivated to accomplish intangibles, such as going to tutoring, or blogging about a particularly helpful class. It’ll be up to me to show & convince them that these intangibles are so helpful when it comes to taking the assessments.

In addition to that, I’ll be motivating them through parent/guardians.[1] If a student doesn’t pass an essential standard, I’ll give them one of these:

Please let me know what you think, as this is just a rough draft right now. I must give credit to Rick Wormeli for giving me the idea at his SBG conference a few weeks ago.  Prior to giving them this sheet, I will need to give them ways of studying, something I assume (incorrectly) that they know how to do before coming to my class.


[1] Each year I promise myself I’ll get better at contacting parents, and each year I get a little better. But this’ll be the year. I promise. I think.


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