Iteration Number 6 with Standards Based Grading

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So some background on me. I apparently wrote in a journal at some point in high school, in-between angsty “omg they are so dreamy” entries about some crush the following:

There is no way in hell I’d ever be a teacher. It’ll be a miracle if I made it out of high school and there’s no way I’d ever come back.

Well aside from teenager me was wrong about my life trajectory I wasn’t the best student. I didn’t learn how to be a decent student until half way through college, and by then I knew I really didn’t want to be a teacher. So I looked into other job options–mostly the type where you sit in front of a computer all day crunching numbers to determine if a process is optimal. Not what I wanted to do with my life. So, like any post-college-I-Have-No-Idea-What-To-Do-With-My-Life person, I joined the Peace Corps. According to a former teacher, in 5th grade when we learned about service branches of the government I stated that I’d join the Peace Corps one day–but I didn’t remember that, I just knew being a health volunteer sounded like fun.

In Peru I realized that, in fact, I did want to be a teacher. I stepped in and taught a few math classes in my town and fell in love with teaching rural farm kids the math needed to budget for and build their future house. So I applied to Duke for their Masters in Teaching Program.

In grad school I was partnered with a mentor teacher, Mr. Belcher (true story, that is his name…he taught freshman. There were jokes.) who got on board the standards based grading bandwagon early. This was Fall 2011 and the man rocked my world in telling me that we weren’t grading things out of 100%, each course objective was worth 10 points, so a test might be 60 points and cover 6 topics. The 10 points weren’t on a rubric–it was more a give students problems for that standard that you will grade on a 10 point scale. Like, 2 points for the correct slope, and 1 for the correct y-intercept… kinda thing. Not full-scale SBG, but it was what I was told he did, so I did. Students could reassess–as many times as they wanted before the end of the grading period. So basically I never learned how to grade, as a teacher, in a traditional setting.

So when I got a classroom of my own I did what Belcher did, because its what I knew. And I kept on doing that, with minor tweaks, until I moved schools. By the time I moved to UNCSA I had been lurking on the #MTBoS for long enough to piece together I needed to get to a rubric based grading system a.s.a.p. instead of the 10-point method. So I did a 10 point scale (what can I say, it translates easy into a traditional grade book) along the lines of:

  • 10-essentially correct
  • 9-non-content-based, yet mathematical error (dropped negative in a solution, added wrong, so on)
  • 8-minor content error (example is in a transformation f(x-6) a student says that’s a shift 6 units to the left)
  • 7-semi-importatnt content error
  • 6-very important content error
  • 5-OMG what did you do??
  • 4-No. You didn’t get the content but you wrote something.

As you can tell. This isn’t a very…objective…rubric. Like, in my mind when I stole it and adapted it for use in my classroom the distinctions between a 8 and a 7 and a 6 were obvious. But when I actually got to the grading, it was really hard to make that distinction. Like. I found myself making a per-standard-conversion for all the possible errors a student might make and what grade I’d give it based on some rather subjective ranking on my part.

If I didn’t grade ALL of my assessments in the same sitting (uninterrupted without taking even a bathroom break) I found I wasn’t consistent with my rubric. So over the next 2 years I tried to refine my 10 point rubric to be less subjective and more objective. I think I would up using someone from TMC17’s 10 point scale rubric here:

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Much like before, if felt like it would work better, because it seemed less subjective. But, alas. I didn’t feel any better.

Then a teacher from North Carolina School of Science and Math, our sister school, came to talk to us about how he does SBG with Interleaving and Spacing (if those last two words are new to you, I’m going to direct you to Anna Vance to learn more). In his class standards earn:

  • 2-Essentially correct
  • 1-Content Error–Not Yet
  • 0-You left it blank

His course is structured so that in class students will see each standard 3 times (i.e. will have three opportunities to show mastery) and the most recent assessment goes in the book. After those three in class assessments, a student can ask to take another reassessment, if they prove they have been actively working to improve the skill by doing extra HW or redoing problems from class or their notes, then they can sign up for a student-initiated reassessment.

The thing I liked most about his set up is that he divides the standards into two categories: Core Content (rote skills) and Advanced Skills (interpreting type questions, or justification, more complex synthesis of CC skills). Then the average of the CC and AS skills yield a traditional grade:

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My department has made a few tweaks to get full buy in, namely that we are going to average the two CC-averages and AS-averages together before converting to a traditional grade.

So its not perfect. But it feels more perfect than my last few iterations of SBG. The part that I really, REALLY, enjoy is that the grade feels 100% objective. Either you got the content, we’re getting there but not yet, or you have no clue. There isn’t a grey area…

Then again, I’ve said that before…like 5 other times…so…yeah. Here goes nothing!

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