[SBG] Re-examining Classroom Assessment

The past two years I’ve used standards based grading (SBG). Last year I did a drastic overhaul. At the end of this year (when I had time again!) I started re-reading many of the blogs that originally got me onto SBG, and I forgot how incredibly deep and helpful they are! There are so many things I liked but forgot to implement, so I’m going to post here to help me remember everything I forgot last year.

Quick overview of how I do grades

100% standards, 0% HW.  Standards are topics not skills right now. I assign HW but don’t check it: I encouraged students to keep track of that themselves and a small fraction of the class continued to do that throughout the year.

What I didn’t like

A majority of the class did not do their HW and quizzes were sub-par. I have been struggling with this idea: “Students must turn in HW (or some equivalently difficult assignment for those that felt my usual HW to be “busy work”) before they may assess.” I’ve decided against this, thanks to several bloggers. This is from Jason Buell:

Your students must trust you. The number one question I and others get is wondering if students will still do homework or other classwork if it’s not worth points. I can answer with 100% certainty the answer is yes. Yes they’ll do whatever you ask them to do, but only if your students trust you. They’re trusting that what you’re giving them will help them reach their goal. It’s not busy work. It’s not assigned out of habit. It’s meaningful and will help them get from A to B. They will do it because they believe it will help them learn. They must trust that you are helping them get there.

You must trust your students. Allow them to surprise you. Give them freedom. Allow them to fail but allow them to learn from those failures. If you don’t trust your students, they will fail. If you believe they won’t do it if you don’t make it worth points, then they won’t do it. Trust your students.

You must trust yourself. Deep in your heart, you’ve got to trust that what you’re giving them will help them learn. Everything you do is to help them learn. If you don’t believe that, they’re not going to believe it either.

So I realized that making HW required was a cop-out for me. The alternative is going back through what I give as HW and making sure every assignment will help them on the assessments I give them. I also need to go back over my assessments and make sure I’m assessing them on what I want them to learn & know (I’m doing better at this than my first several years, but there’s always room for improvement here!). To that end I’m trying “Understanding by Design” as Sam & Bowman explain it in this post.

Change the formula of the classroom

This post from Shawn Cornally explains exactly how I feel I’ve been teaching, but he is clearly much more focused and intentional in how his classroom has changed. I want that. I think it goes hand-in-hand pretty well with the Understanding by Design.

I also noticed that a big part of SBG should be allowing students to become better self-assessors. I’ve done this sporadically, but something simple I can do to greatly improve this is put something like this at the top of every quiz:

  • Before the quiz, grade yourself on how well you think you’ll do:
  • Now that you’ve taken the quiz, grade yourself on how well you think you’ll do:
  • Grade yourself using the answer key and give yourself a grade [1]:
  • Your actual grade from Mr. Newman:

Think about what your scores mean

What does a 1 mean in my class? How about a 2 or a 3 on a specific standard? Yes, I have the general vocab (“Not yet”, Proficient, and Mastery), but what does that mean for 6.1 Balancing Chemical Equations?  Jason hammers this home (and explains how much time it will take!). I wanted to start this last summer but kinda burned out [2].

One thing I’m still hesitant on his is idea of what a 4.0 means, and why he has a grade of 4. I want to encourage students to make connections, but I think that should be separate standard (something I don’t do well in math right now!).  I also like his idea of “a step above what’s expected” but I suppose that’s what my “3” is.

Summary/List of Tasks to complete over the summer

Here’s what I need to do this summer:

  • Leave Chemistry (mostly) alone.
  • Start with enduring understanding and re-vamp the Precalculus curriculum (again).
  • Embrace the fact that textbooks are not wholly un-usuable resources. I know they get a bad rap on the MTBoS, but last year I think I didn’t hand out the Precalculus textbook for a whole month or two. I need to recognize that they can be useful in skills practice, especially for students without internet access. I’m not going to start teaching straight from the book, but I won’t shun it either like it’s the anti-grail of mathematics education (Khan isn’t that either, btw).
  • Create the “real-world application starting points” for every topic [4]. Weekly, if possible. Like what Shawn Cornally did for his calculus classes back when he was in a normal school.
  • Re-examine my assessments and decide (and write out) what explicitly make “proficient/passing” and what makes “mastery”. This is what I wanted to tackle last summer but failed. Now I’ve added on 3 other steps and think I can still do this?!? Perhaps. At least now I have last year’s assessments to work with rather than starting from relative scratch.


[1] I’ll include this if I have my act together and can put out answer keys to all of the assessments I give. Here’s what I’m doing.

[2] “Burned out” is the wrong expression because in implies that I was working really hard all summer.

[3] It’s the class I always tackle first (nearly 50% of my students are in chemistry so it makes sense…) and I should really give Precalculus & Physics a fighting chance in my planning time. Okay, I should really give Precal a fighting chance. If things stay as they are right now, I’ll only have 10 physics students next year. I guess I sure do a good job of scaring them away in Chemistry…

[4] I actually picked my textbook because in each section the author begins with explaining a real-world application of the topic. Some of them are cheap cop-outs (I’m still looking for a real-world application of trig identities & proofs), but most are something for me to start with. I’ll also dig through yummy math, Dan Meyer’s 3 acts, Robert Kaplinsky’s lessons, and many, many more.



Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s