Standards Based Grading - All in, for the new year

I've written previously about wanting to be part of the Standards Based Grading crowd. My quiz policy was based in the idea - my quizzes cover skills only and in isolation, the idea being that if students could show proficiency on the quizzes, then I would know for sure that they had really developed those skills. If they had demonstrated proficiency, but then failed on tests to perform, it was an indication that the problem was seeing all the skills in one place. This is the "I get it in class, but on tests I mess it up" mantra that I've heard ever since I first started teaching. My belief has always been that the first clause of that sentence is never as true as the student thinks it is. The quiz grades have typically shown that to be the case.

The thing I haven't been able to get at is why I can't get my students to retake quizzes as I thought it compelled them to do. I told them they can get 100%. I reminded them that they just needed to look at each quiz, recognize what they got wrong, and work with me on those specific skills to improve. Then, when they were ready, they could retake and get a better score. Sometimes they do it, but they are always missing either one of those three things. They would retake without looking at the quiz. They would take it knowing what they got wrong, but never asked me to go over the things they didn't get. There were exceptions, but curiously not enough to impress me.

After really committing to reshaping the quiz grade as a real SBG grade for a unit last year, I saw the differences pretty clearly in how the students went about this aspect of their grade. The standards I expected students to demonstrate were clearly listed in the grade book (fine, Powerschool). The students knew what they needed to work on, and were directly linked to examples and short videos I had created to help them with those specific skills. Class time was spent working around developing those skills, along with some bigger picture ideas to explore separately from the routine skills the standards were centered around for the unit, which was on exponential and logarithmic functions. I was impressed in this short time with how changing this small (15%) portion of the grade changed the overall attitude my students had while they were working with me. It was one step closer to the Montessori style classroom I have always wanted to have while working within the structure of a more traditional program - students walk in knowing what they need to work on, and they get to work. My role becomes more to push them in the way I think they can and need to be pushed. Some need to work on skills, others need to attack context problems and the challenging 'why is this so' threads that are usually all teacher driven, but don't need to be in many cases.

I did some thinking over the last couple of weeks on how I wanted to do things differently, so I wrote up a new grading policy and posted it online. I had renamed my quiz grade to be 'Learning Standards', bumped up the percentage by 10% (to 25%), and reduced the homework and classwork components to 5% each, with a portfolio at 10%, and tests to 55%.  In sharing my new grading policy with people through Twitter, there were some key comments that really guided my thinking.

Kelly O'Shea pointed out the fact that even with the change, the standards were not a huge part of the grade. Even by cutting classwork and homework into the standards, it still wasn't good enough:

A few other people made similar suggestions. John Burk probably put the final nail in the SBG-lite version I thought was safe with this comment:

One problem for getting buy in on SBG is that if it isn't a big part of the grade, and there are still so many non-sbg things, they might not really understand the rationale for SBG.

If I really believe in the power for Standards Based Grading to transform how learning happens in my classroom, I need to demonstrate its importance and commit to it.

The final result? My grades for Algebra 2/Advanced Algebra, Geometry, Calculus 12, and Physics are going to be 90% Learning Standards, 10% portfolio. I am going to give unit tests, but they are opportunities to demonstrate proficiency on the learning standards. In the case of my AP Calculus students, the grades are still 60% unit tests, 30% standards, and 10% portfolio, primarily because I still will be giving tests that are similar to the AP exam with multiple choice, and free response sections. I also had my first class last year with 100% fives, and am admittedly a bit nervous tweaking what worked last year. That said, I am accepting that this, too, could become a thing of the past.

I am a bit nervous, but that's mostly because change isn't always easy. From a teaching perspective, the idea feels right, but it's not what I'm used to doing. The students sounded pretty cool with it on the first days of class when I introduced the idea though, and that is a major positive. I'll keep writing as things proceed and my implementation develops - it feels great to know I'm not alone.

I really appreciate all of the kind words and honest feedback from the people that challenged me to think this through and go all in. If I can do nothing else, I'll pay that advice forward. Cool?

3 thoughts on “Standards Based Grading - All in, for the new year

  1. I found that it helped a lot to structure what the students need to do before reassessing. I created this form ( and told students they needed it approved the day before reassessing. For whatever reason, it greatly increased the number of reassessments, as well as improved the quality of the reassessments.

    1. I was going to make this myself - thank you for doing it for me! I completely agree that part of the battle is reassessment. The thing I've wondered about (at least under the old system) is whether the process of writing the reflection/request scares students off from actually doing it. They might reason 'it doesn't affect my grade that much, so I'll just learn it for the test' even though the reflection IS the kick they need to dig in to what they don't understand. I think by committing to this, I am showing students that this reflection IS what I value.

      Thank you for sharing!

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