Though others have written far more convincingly and elegantly about why they use Standards-Based Grading (see dy/dan’s “How Math Must Assess”, Think Thank Thunk’s SBG Manifesto & FAQ, and Parts I & II on this post from Take It to the Limit, among many others), I figured I should at least have some explanation for my halfway jump into it this year.
A discussion over in the comments at Sam’s blog got me thinking, and this post was inspired by writing a response there.
Standards-Based Grading means two things to me:
- A way of decluttering grades: simplifying them, while at the same time making them more specific. Usually a student might have a grade for homework, a grade for attendance, a grade for Quiz 1, a grade for chapter4 test, a grade for daily classwork, and several attempted extra credit opportunities, all floating around to give a number like a 78 on the report card. Instead, students are only graded on what they know, via skills or topic assessments. [Or, in my case, half of their grade is what they know and half is how they apply what they know through projects.] Furthermore, rather than grouping an assortment of skills together in quiz/test grades, grades are reported out separately by skill or topic. So instead of seeing a 55% on Quiz 3, a student sees grades reflecting complete mastery on calculating area but only a very limited understanding of identifying lines of symmetry.
- A system of re-assessment built in. At our school, we have long had a mastery re-do policy, where students are allowed to re-do work and re-take asssessments to demonstrate mastery of course content. Details of this policy’s implementation are left up to individual teachers, so we may set late penalties for work not turned in on time, while still accepting it for a grade, or say that a student retaking a test failed the first time around may not receive more than a 90, or just allow their new grade to supersede the old. The whole idea of allowing re-assessments and the mastery re-do policy is to recognize that students might not always learn according to our schedule, but if they do learn and successfully master the content in a class, their grade should reflect that. For example, a student may be totally confused by rotation symmetry after I first teach it and give a quiz a couple days later. But then we spend a week creating tilings of the plane and examining the types of symmetry found therein, and the student gains a better understanding of the topic. In a standard class, the quiz has gone by, and the student didn’t learn it in time, so too bad. With SBG, topics/skills re-appear on assessments. A student’s new grade will replace an older grade, so their current grade will better reflect what they currently know about that topic. Additionally, within some reasonable limits, students are allowed to re-assess individual skills after school / before school during coach class.
While meeting a constant flow of deadlines is a key life skill, even more important in my view are the following: independent self-directed learning, setting your own goals on your way to a deadline, and keeping trying until you have reached a goal. A math professor I studied with in college would always say that failure is the only way we truly learn anything. Making a mistake (using what we know and failing) opens our eyes and prompts us to learn a new way that will succeed. And this skill: the skill of persistence in the face of failure, and learning from your mistakes, is perhaps the most important skill I wish to teach my students. Even though it’s not on my SBG skills list 🙂, the very nature of SBG and re-assessment seem to promote this continual striving to get better instead of being satisfied with mediocrity.
I believe this will be my last SBG-details post for a while. I’m hoping to get back to posting more about the content of what I’m teaching in Geometry and Computer Integrated Manufacturing, describing some of the projects we’re doing, and reflecting on how things go. But, for those of you who have liked my last few posts, I do plan on continuing to update my folder over on Scribd with weekly skills quizzes and other relevant documents from my foray into using SBG in Geometry.