Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Standards Based Grading - a mid semester update

It's now been three months with grade books and assessing strategies completely aligned with Standards Based Grading. So far, we've posted three times in particular about how we are using Standards Based grading:

For this mid semester update, I want to focus on the reactions we've had to what we are doing and the things we're noticing in our students. 

Grading Procedures and Schedules
Doing this the way we are, by using Active Grade in conjunction with our county grade books has resulted in a few road blocks that we are over coming, but also some interesting things we otherwise wouldn't be able to do. 

  1. Extra Time - Yes, doing it this way requires extra time from us. It takes me longer because I enter grades into Active Grade (which does all the math for me, so I think it's worth it) and then transfer them to our county grade book. What I have done is that I separate my schedule out and grade one class a day and transfer grades once per class each week. A student or parent can log onto Active Grade at any time, but since our county grade books only update at night anyways, we can do this once a week. We are all handling this in our own way, but this is what I've found works for me. It also keeps the pile of work to pass out from stacking up and getting mixed together.
  2. Saved Comments - Using Active Grade allows me to put in specific comments per student, per standard, per assignment. These comments are saved online for my or their viewing any time. Unlike a traditional grade book where the grade is input and nothing else, I can pass messages to students and save them so that when a parent or student comes to me with questions, a record is saved. Since it is done by standard, comments have moved away from things like, "you missed 5 questions" to "you should try the following extra exercises to help with this" or "you got this grade because you...." They are more detailed and personalised. 
  3. Student Perspective - The by far most difficult part of this, I feel, is changing the student perspective. When I presented the idea both to my former students, and to this year's students, they were on board, but they struggle to understand that the numbers mean different things. Whenever I pass back a test, or quiz, or assignment I get a barrage of, "what does 4 mean?", "I missed 2 questions, what grade is that?", etc. I have to remind them that they  need to check Active Grade and familiarise themselves with the proficiency guidelines. Some are becoming familiar and appreciate how things are being done, others are trying to master this new territory, but need more guidance. 
Assessments
  1. Terminology - I have really had to change my terminology when considering assessments with SBG. Students have commented how my assessments (see bullet point 2) are more like their quizzes in other classes rather than tests, so we've changed the name from quiz or test to quest. Students aren't panicking and appreciate the brevity, clarity, and content of the assessments. Students are also understanding now how each assessment is broken into sections by standard. It makes it clearer for them, and reminds them, what we expect them to be proficient in and gives a nice guideline of what they need to work on, should their proficiency level be low. 
  2. Structure - It occurred to me as I was writing my first test that, if I'm grading by proficiency in standard, I really ought to separate the test by standard, so I began doing that. Rachel was thinking along the same lines and we've both found it very helpful for students and for us. Organising the assessments this way speeds up grading tremendously and allows for easier commenting on proficiency. Grades are no longer about missing a certain number of questions, but rather about how proficient someone is in a certain skill.
  3. Teacher Perspective - By assessing standards repeatedly and in multiple ways, I view assessments very differently. I no longer view them as this end all activity that students must make a certain grade on for us to move forward, but rather a checkpoint. What standards are they proficient in? What standards do we need to practice more (see our recent posts: The Fault in our Plans and Robert Patrick's Guest Post)? It is like a little reminder each time of where we are, where we've been, and where we are going.
Student Voice
  1. Confidence - Students seem somewhat more confident when it comes to their voice, their concerns, and their needs. Students know what is expected of them more clearly and so they know what they need to do or what they need to ask for. 
  2. Student Choice - Without a textbook, student can have a real say in what they are learning. This year in Latin I, I've decided that I want them to read longer readings and really learn how to communicate in Latin (based on our standards) at a deeper level. To that end, I gave students choices for the Spring semester. All were longer readings (novels really), but they had a wide span of content from science and history to legend to fantasy and adventure. The students really appreciated being able to make their own choice, which means they will enjoy what we do next semester - making for happy students and happy teachers. 
I'd love to hear if you guys are trying Standards Based Grading and how it is going for you. Are you seeing these things? What else are you observing?