Tag Archives: exams

Standards Based Grading & Streamlining Assessments

I give quizzes at the beginning of most of my classes. These quizzes are usually on a single standard for the course, and are predictably on whatever we worked on two classes before. I also give unit exams as ways to assess student mastery of the standards all together. Giving grades after exams usually consists of me looking at a single student's exam, going standard by standard through the entire paper, and then adjusting their standards grades accordingly. There's nothing groundbreaking happening here.

The two downsides to this process are that it is (a) tedious and (b) is subject to my discretion at a given time. I'm not confident that I'm consistent between students. While I do go back and check myself when I'm not sure, I decided to try a better way. If you're a frequent reader of my blog, you know that either a spreadsheet or programming is involved. This time, it's the former.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.07.41 AM

One sheet contains what I'm calling a standards map, and you can see this above. This relates a given question to the different standards on an exam. You can see above that question 1 is on only standard 1, while question 4 spans both standards 2 and 3.

The other sheet contains test results, and looks a lot like what I used to do when I was grading on percentages, with one key difference. You can see this below:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.10.02 AM

Rather than writing in the number of points for each question, I simply rate a student's performance on that question as a 1, 2, or 3. The columns S1 through S5 then tally up those performance levels according to the standards that are associated with each question, and then scale those values to be a value from zero to one.


This information was really useful when going through the last exam with my ninth graders. The spreadsheet does the association between questions and standards through the standards map, so I can focus my time going through each exam and deciding how well a student completed a given question rather than remembering which standard I'm considering. I also found it much easier to make decisions on what to do with a student's standard level. Student 2 is an 8 on standard 1 before the exam, so it was easy to justify raising her to a 10 after the exam. Student 12 was a 7 on standard 4, and I left him right where he was.


I realize that there's a subtlety here that needs to be mentioned - some questions that are based on two or three standards might not communicate effectively a student's level with a single 1, 2, or 3. If a question is on solving systems graphically, a student might graph the lines correctly, but completely forget to identify the intersection. This situation is easy to address though - questions like this can be broken down into multiple entries on the standards map. I could give a student a 3 on the entry for this question on the standard for graphing lines, and a 1 for the entry related to solving systems. Not a big deal.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what information I need in order to justify raising a student's mastery level. Having the sort of information that is generated in this spreadsheet makes it much clearer what my next steps might be.


You can check out the live spreadsheet here:

Standards Assessment - Unit 5 Exam

Standards Based Grading & Unit Tests

I am gearing up for another year, and am sitting in my new classroom deciding the little details that need to be figured out now that it is the "later" that I knew would come eventually. Last year was the first time I used SBG to assess my students. One year in, I understand things much better than when I first introduced the concept to my students. By the end of the year, they were pretty enthusiastic about the system and appreciated that I had made the change.

I wonder now about the role of unit tests. Students did not get an individual grade for a test at the end of a unit - instead just a series of adjustments to their proficiency levels for the different standards of the related unit, and other units if there were questions that assessed them. While there were times for students to reassess during class and before and after school, a full period devoted to this purpose helped in a few unique ways that I really appreciate:

  • All students reassessing at the same time means no issues with scheduling time for retakes.
  • Students that have already demonstrated their ability to work independently to apply content standards are given an opportunity to do so in the context of all of the standards of the unit. They need to decide which standards apply in a given situation, which is a higher level rung of cognitive demand. This is why students that perform well on a unit exam usually move up to a 4 or 5 for the related standards.
  • Students that miss a full period assessment due to illness, school trips, etc. know that they must find another time to assess on the standards in order to raise their mastery level. It changes the conversation from 'you missed the test, so here's a zero' to 'you missed an opportunity to raise your mastery level, so your mastery levels are staying right where they are while we move on to new topics.'

I also like the unintended connection to the software term unit testing in which the different components of a piece of software are checked to see that they function independently and in concert with each other. This is what we are interested in seeing through reassessment, no?

My question to the blogosphere is to fill in the holes of my understanding here. What are the other reasons to have unit exams? Or should I get rid of them altogether and just have more scheduled extended times to reassess consistently, regardless of progress throughout the content of the semester?