Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Long Standards-Based Journey

Our school has undertaken many journeys over the years. One particularly long and turbulent journey has centered on standards-based grading (SBG). Here are some of my thoughts about this ongoing journey—what SBG and its expectations are, what a transition to a new grade reporting system might entail, and best hopes vs. worst fears for our continuing SBG saga.

Our SBG Philosophy

We strive to use a standards-based grading system to provide feedback to students and parents about a child’s learning progress. A child’s learning is assessed in two ways: his or her progress toward meeting national, state, and/or district content standards (formative assessments), and his or her mastery of national, state, and/or district content standards (summative assessments). Teachers use a variety of formal and informal assessments to provide children with timely, effective, and ongoing feedback to guide them on their lifelong learning journeys.

Formal and informal assessments can include reading and writing tasks, inquiry-based investigations, short- and long-term projects, discussions, conversations, performances, homework tasks, quizzes, tests, observations, peer- and self-evaluations, etc.

Traditional grading systems use A, B, C, D, F to quantify a student’s progress. While our online grading system stills uses A, B, C, D, F to report end-of-trimester progress, the underlying meaning behind these letter grades has shifted. In a standards-based system, teachers are focused on how proficient students are at meeting standards, rather than degree of effort or accumulation of points. In general, letter grades can be interpreted in the following standards-based ways (notice that “B” is equivalent to “proficient”):

  • A: above proficient, exceeds standards
  • B: proficient, meets standards
  • C: partially proficient, shows progress toward meeting standards
  • D: unsatisfactory, struggling to meet standards, little data to evaluate
  • F: failing, not meeting standards, no data to evaluate

In a standards-based system, extra credit is not available to boost grades, since grades are based on learning mastery.

Basic SBG Expectations

1. Each middle level department creates their formative, summative, PPQ (practice/preparation/quality) percentages and expectations for the online grading system.
  • Each content area and teacher may have slightly different grading expectations, which are usually provided to each student and discussed at the beginning of the course. Information about expectations can also be found in online weekly notes and on teacher websites.

2. At our school, we allow students to “redo” their assignments to ensure that students are learning the concepts, skills, and knowledge.
  • Redos are offered at teacher discretion (see individual classroom expectations and redo policies).
  • Redos are not automatic for every assignment.
  • Redos can only be offered when honest effort has been made on the original assignment (encourages honesty and integrity; discourages procrastination and laziness).
  • Redos occur under logical conditions and within reasonable time frames (avoids end-of-trimester panics).
  • Redo opportunities may differ from the original assignment: a different assessment, a different format, etc.

3. No “zeros” policy.
  • Reference: Reeves, D., “The Case Against the Zero,” Phi Delta Kappan, 2004.
  • On a 10-point (or 100-point) scale, zeros skew grades disproportionately downward when averaged among other assignments.
  • Zeros reinforce the concept of grades as punishment—they de-motivate students, and probably exacerbate missing assignments (“Why bother?”).
  • Zeros could be used on a 4-point (0, 1, 2, 3) or a 5-point scale (0, 1, 2, 3, 4).

4. Other.
  • In a standards-based system, extra credit is not available.

Grade Reporting vs. Feedback

Our biggest struggle as a teaching staff has been grappling with our grade reporting system. We are caught between  maintaining the current, traditional grading system (A, B, C, D, F) and moving toward one that is wholly standards based with detailed feedback about student learning. This has led to some difficult conversations—overall, there is a reluctance to fully embrace a standards-based reporting system at our school despite many years of trying to move in this direction.

What tasks/training/timeline are necessary to either maintain our current grading system or transition to a new system?

Current System
  • streamline and clarify language to minimize student/parent confusion
  • be clear about the impacts of missing assignments
  • use common language around “learning” vs. “grading”
  • continue professional development around effective feedback

4, 3, 2, 1, 0 System
  • create standard definitions for each point on the scale
  • set up new grading scale for our school in our online grading system
  • set up new gradebooks in our online grading system
  • rewrite course syllabi
  • rewrite student/parent handbook

Feedback-Only System
  • define a feedback-only system
  • train teachers on providing effective feedback in a non-grade environment
  • set up new grading scale for our school in our online grading system
  • set up new gradebooks in our online grading system
  • create/maintain student portfolios
  • rewrite course syllabi
  • rewrite student/parent handbook

What are the best hopes and worst fears as we continue our SBG journey?

Best Hopes
  • conversations/conferences will center around learning, not grades
  • motivation for learning will shift from extrinsic (rewards-based and competition-based) to intrinsic (curiosity, hunger to learn)
  • grades will no longer be used as carrots and sticks, instruments of control and compliance, reward and punishment
  • reporting systems will shift from Ds/Fs and missing assignments to feedback about a child’s strengths and opportunities for growth

Worst Fears
  • students won’t be prepared for high school’s A, B, C system, and high school won’t take the time to explain their system
  • “Is that an ‘A’?” (students/parents retaining a traditional grading mindset)
  • creating community confusion, anger, and backlash
  • making our school less attractive to prospective families
  • polarized beliefs about grades will damage relationships among teaching staff
  • status quo continues
  • district, administrators, parents, students won’t support a new system

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