Last weekend was the annual UCTM Conference. I had a great experience and left feeling pumped! Steve Leinwand was amazing! At the beginning of his presentation, my friend turned to me and said, "I feel like this man is a math education evangelist. Like someone should be shouting out 'Amen' and 'Halelujah'." Well, I may not have shouted them, but I did give a few Amen's and Halelujah's during his presentation. I'm very excited to try his 2-4-2 homework strategy (2 problems covering new content, 4 problems of mixed review, and 2 problems which require students to explain their reasoning).
For me, another highlight of the conference was getting the opportunity to present. I actually presented twice - first a 5 minute Ignite talk on the Math Twitter Blogosphere (#MTBoS) and the power of community, and second a 50 minute presentation on Standards Based Grading. My co-presenter, Desirae Calkins, and I were both surprised at the level of interest and enthusiasm regarding our presentation on Standards Based Grading. Of course, I guess we shouldn't have been too surprised given that we both love it so much and could talk about it all day long. In case you missed it, or in case you came and are looking for the resources that I promised to share, I'm writing this blog post to describe how we do Standards Based Grading. What we do might not be quite right for you or your setting but we encourage you to take the general principle and adapt it to fit your needs.
The Problem with Traditional Grading Methods;
How Standards Based Grading Helps
Here's a quick overview of how the assessment/grading cycle works in my classroom.
1. Identify content standards
2. Teach the standards (using informal assessments to guide instructional decisions)
3. Formal assessment (quizzes/tests)
4. Grade the student - giving a separate score for each standard assessed
5. Provide feedback that moves the learner forward
Any given test or quiz may cover four or five different learning objectives. In the past, after correcting a test or a quiz, I gave students one overall score at the top of the paper. The problem with this system is that it fails to identify in which area(s) each student needs to improve. Two students who received the same score may have completely different areas of strength and weakness.
In order to give improved feedback to students, I now use Standards Based Grading. The content I teach and even the quizzes and tests I give students are essentially the same as in the past. What is different is that after taking a quiz, students receive multiple scores - one for each learning goal (standard). Students receive a score based on a 0-10 scale.
Update: I found that changing two 9's into a 10 became a lot of work for me to keep track of in my gradebook. My coworker, Mrs. Calkins, still follows this same plan. However, I have just started giving students a 10 for a proficient score. Since each standard is assessed multiple times and the new score replaces the old, I don't feel like this does basically the same thing with less work and record keeping on my end.
If you are going to use Standards Based Grading, you need to have a way for students to show growth. Each standard ought to be assessed in class at least twice. I usually will give one quiz each week. Sometimes the quizzes are very short and sometimes they take a whole class period. Occasionally I will give students a grade print-out and I will let them vote on which standards they would like to be on that week's quiz. Of course, I get to make the final call, but I love it when arguments break out in my class over whether the quiz should contain problems on 'Solving Systems by Graphing' or problems on 'Placing Rational and Irrational Numbers on a Number Line.' Once the quiz topics have been decided upon, I plan my classes for the week so that I spend a few minutes during class each day that week reviewing those topics.
Additionally, I allow students to come after school to re-quiz on any standard. If a student isn't able to demonstrate mastery on the standard when they re-quiz, I spend some time explaining the concept to them and give them some extra practice until it seems that the student understands. Then I ask them to come in on another day to re-quiz again. I do not allow students to get help from me and re-quiz on the standard on the same day because I want to make sure they can retain the learning.
Catching the Mistakes that Traditionally Get Swept Under the Carpet
Grading vs Giving Feedback
I think it is important to recognize what grades do and what they don't do. Grading is evaluating student work and putting a number on it. It tells the student where they are. Grading is not the same as giving feedback. Feedback is giving students information that helps move them forward from that point. This could be another blog post in and of itself, but I just wanted to put that out there. If you are expecting students to make improvements, just giving them a grade is not going to be enough no matter what kind of fancy-schmancy grading system you use. You are going to need to find a way to remediate and re-teach, all of which takes time. I have found ways to do this during class time, during the flex period that my school uses, and after school. How you give feedback, how you remediate will look different for you depending on your style and your setting. Standards Based grading will help you identify which students need help, but you've got to figure out how to give them the help that they need to move forward or nothing will really change in the end.
I could go on and on about the reasons why I love standards based grading (more productive collaboration, more effective parent-teacher conferences, more student buy-in into learning, greater integrity of grades, etc), but I think it's worth mentioning the greatest enemy to Standards Based Grading - time. Time is the enemy of all teachers. We don't have enough prep time, we don't have enough instruction time. You can't change that. I spent several years thinking about Standards Based Grading and reading all about it and the thing that kept me from implementing it was the amount of time it would take. And then I had an 'Aha!'.
Practice is a means to an end. I've heard a lot of English teachers talk about how for students to be making significant improvements in writing, they should be writing so much that it would be humanly impossible for one teacher to read every single word of it. So they get creative about ways to get students to self-evaluate their work, peer review each other's work, etc. I think the same principle should hold true for math. We ought to be able to come up with creative ways to motivate students to practice and hold them accountable without grading every single problem they attempt as though it were a test question. If you have other good ideas on how to do this, please let me know.
Just Do It!
I worry you are starting to feel overwhelmed as you read through all the details of how I've made Standards Based Grading work for me. Here's the key though: I didn't start out with anything organized. I just knew I wanted to do it so I started. It was messy. I changed a lot even within one school year, but it didn't take long for me to feel comfortable and start seeing the benefits. The logistics of how my classroom works didn't come together overnight. You've got to try something and be willing to make mistakes before you will find the solutions that work best for you. We expect our students to make mistakes. It's part of the learning process. As teachers, I hope that we are professional enough to allow ourselves the same grace that we give so freely to our students.
You Don't Have to Take My Word For It
There are a lot of different ideas about Standards Based Grading and I studied a lot of them before I tried it out on my own. If you are wanting to read more, here are a few good places to start:
Global Math Department: This site offers free weekly webinar PDs - another great collaborative product of the Math Twitter Blogosphere (#MTBoS). On July 8, 2014, Jessica Bogie and Matt Owen presented on Global Math Department about Standards Based Grading. You can view the recording here.
Dylan Kane: Dylan's blog is one of my favorites. It is incredibly insightful and introspective and is usually right on the money with what current research says. He has recently written several great posts about assessment in general (here, here, and here) and a couple specifically about Standards Based Grading (here and here).
Dan Meyer: This post and this post had a huge impact on how I think about grading
Dane Ehlert: This page of Dane's blog, When Math Happens, gives a great overview of how he uses SBG and is loaded with lots of links to more resources on standards based grading
Robert J. Marzano: His book Formative Assesment and Standards Based Grading is research based and the seminal work about Standards Based Grading
Dylan Wiliam: One of my heroes. Though not directly tied to Standards Based Grading, no discussion of assessment would be complete without mentioning Wiliam's book Embedded Formative Assessment.