Credit Expiration & Standards Based Grading

For the background on my reassessment system, check out this previous post.

Here’s the run down of my progression in using standards based grading over the past couple of years:

  • When students could reassess whenever they wanted, they often did so without preparation. They also rushed to do as many reassessments as possible at the end of a quarter or semester. I also needed a system to know who had signed up for a reassessment, for which standard they were assessing, and when they were coming in.
    Solution: Students needed to complete a reassessment sign-up form through Google Forms that included reflection on work that was done to review a standard. In general though, the reflection on these forms wasn’t strong. I needed more, but didn’t get around to clearly defining what I meant by strong reflection.
  • The difficulty of scanning through a form and getting the information I needed prompted me to create an online site using the Meteor programming framework that lets students sign up for reassessments. In real-time, this sorts the reassessments for a given day and helps me stay organized. The problem was that I still wasn’t satisfied with what students needed to do to reassess. They needed to review their mistakes, talk to me, practice and get feedback, and then sign up. Having a way to manage that process was essential.
    Solution: The introduction of credits. Students earned credits for working after school, showing me practice problems, and doing other work to support the deliberate practice and learning needed to get closer to mastery.
  • Many students hoarded their credits until the end of the semester. This prevented the cycle of feedback about learning from continuing, and caused the end of the semester to still be a mad rush to reassess whichever standards are lowest in the grade-book using a machine gun approach.

This brings me to what I wrote about in my year-end reflection about SBG at the end of last year. Hoarding credits and saving them until they want to use them causes less reassessment, and that’s not right. I want to nudge students to reassess more often and know that they should take opportunities as often as possible to show what they know. I’ve threatened to make credit expiration happen since August, and students have been asking when it would start.

No time like the present.

After working on this for a couple of days, I’ve activated a feature on my reassessment management app that allows credits to expire.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 8.45.55 AM

Right now, I will be expiring credits manually. I need to see how students respond to this change before the system does this automatically. I get a visual indication that a given credit has expired and click the ‘fire’ button to expire the credit. I can also restore the credit if I change my mind. The asterisk button lets me apply the credit lifetime in the input box to a specific credit and change the expiration.

For old credits, I applied a much longer lifetime, but as students learn to adjust their behavior, I’m starting with a ten day expiration lifetime. That seems to be just the right amount of time to get students assessing within a reasonable amount of time of doing work related to a standard. I don’t think this changes the time pressure to learn something within a given amount of time, which is one of the benefits of SBG. It does change the pressure to assess within a given amount of time, which I do want to happen.

I’m also adjusting some of my policies that cause the hoarding in the first place. Some of this tendency was a consequence of my system – I haven’t let students go from a 5 to a 10 (on a ten point scale) with one assessment session. Mastery is demonstrated over time. I typically had students go from a 5 to an 8 on a perfect first assessment, and then left it there until the unit exam, when students can demonstrate mastery of standards in the context of many other problems.

I’m planning to loosen this progression in light of the credit expiration changes here. If a student is able to demonstrate the ability to answer questions related to a standard, no matter what I throw at them, that’s a pretty good hint on their mastery level. It’s up to me to give reassessment questions that measure what I’m looking for though. That’s where the art of good assessment and experience comes in. I reserve the right to not raise the mastery level if I’m not convinced of a student’s level – students know that taking a reassessment does not automatically mean their level will be raised. As long as that understanding continues, I think these changes will lead to better learning.

As always, I’ll keep you all updated with how well this works in practice. I can always turn this feature off if it’s a disaster.

6 thoughts on “Credit Expiration & Standards Based Grading

  1. The credit idea is great! I encountered the exact same problems you did. My google form for reassessment was pretty thorough, but students still signed up without proper preparation. One improvement I made that seemed to help was for students to demonstrate to me that they reassessed themselves and they were able to answer a question(s) without help from notes/textbook/etc. They needed to submit their actual work. I got fewer applications for reassessment, but somewhat better results.

    I think I’ll never stop tweaking my SBG system.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Alex.

      That demonstration that they had done something to prepare was the inspiration for the credits, and came before the credit system. The reason I moved to the more formal system was for accounting purposes – I could get a record of who was doing work, and when. This gave me evidence to use when parents asked if their child was doing the work for the class.

      Given the growth mindset concept that SBG strives to inspire in students, I don’t think it will ever be perfect. Perpetual tweaking is required for improvement in many things!

  2. When do you assess?

    I mean: if you assess students individually when they want, then each student take the exam in regular class. So he/she is missing the regular class: his/her partners are taking regular class while he/she is taking the exam.

    If you program the tests, then you lost the freedom of choice, that is the essential part of this system, I think.

    I think that the only good solution is to have an extra hour for voluntary assessment. But this is complex in terms of school organization.

    In conclusion, when do you assess?


    1. Hi Xavier,

      I give students the option of assessing before or after school, during lunch, or during class. If they sign up to assess during class, then I leave 10 – 15 minutes at the end of class for that purpose. This requires planning, of course, but I’m pretty flexible for students that travel far to get to school and are unable to get to school early or leave later.

      I still give unit exams because they provide bulk assessment of the learning standards at one time. I get a good idea of what a student can do with that longer amount of time devoted to assessment. The rest of the time, I assess with a 1-2 question quiz that is usually straight forward to grade so I can get it back to the students with feedback during the class period.

      1. We should do it outside the class because these are not compulsory hours.
        If we do it in class, then we “lose” minutes. And perhaps you are in a middle of an engagement activity.

        But thanks for answering….

        1. I agree that you lose minutes assessing during class, but at least those minutes are lost to something that matters. We show what we value by how we spend our time – it’s our most limited resource. It’s hard to show that reassessment is valued if there is no time for it to occur during the normal schedule.

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