Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Standards Based Grading (SBG) - Making it Work in a Traditional Gradebook

I think every teacher starts a new year with goals, for both him/herself and his/her students. I am no exception. My biggest goal this year was to find ways I could show real student progress and ensure that 100% of my kids do, in fact, progress.

In setting my goals, I already knew that there were some things I was going to do this year, for a fact:

  • I untextbooked fully this year with all IV levels (more posts to come)
  • I fully switched to culture instruction through research using the National Latin Exam syllabi
  • I fully switched to only using direct grammar instruction in my upper levels (more posts to come)
  • I reconsidered my retake policies and tutoring practices (more below)
  • I re-read my own post on the No Failure Classroom and considered how to make my practices more fully integrated in this idea. 
I also knew, between my own research and discussions with my students, that diving into Standards Based Grading was something we all wanted. I don't want to spend this post talking about the theory, but rather how I am making it work, so allow me to give you some links to the research for your own perusal. This link takes you to my own Google Drive folder with information on Standards Based Grading. There is a PowerPoint with information and a page long list of articles, research, videos, etc. 

So, how am I doing it?

In Thought

I needed to lay out exactly why I wanted to do this and what the benefits would be. So, I spoke to my kids, we brainstormed, and then I applied the research. I kept what worked and reconsidered what didn't. 
  1. Grades, if we are to use them, should be a measure of a student's progress with standards or goals, not their ability to complete an assignment or get something right on a first try. 
    1. How does this apply to the number of grades I put in a grade book?
    2. How does this apply to testing and test retakes?
    3. How does this apply to absences and deadlines?
  2. If students are to show real progress, they must be able to make that progress when they are ready, no matter when it happens through the year. 
    1. Just because it is on my schedule, does that mean a student must succeed at that exact moment?
    2. How do we ensure progress and not a memorisation of isolated facts, words, and ideas?
    3. How do we motivate students to work towards progress and not panic when something requires extra help or instruction?
    4. What happens when one, two, or three people need extra help and time vs. when an entire class needs extra help and time?
  3. How do we address student, parent, and school needs and requirements while making a grade book work with standards?
    1. Do we use graded numbers?
    2. Do we change the weight of grades to fit needs?
    3. Do we put standards in and leave them blank until the time comes?
    4. How can we communicate regularly while meeting these goals?

In Practice

So, keeping these concerns and ideas in mind, off I went. I spent a good deal of my summer thinking about this, discussing it with teachers, and just when I had an idea of what to do, grading schemes were released for our school and I had to rethink it all. So, here's the final shell of my grading this year. 

Grade Book Setup

  • I still put in grades based on assignment 
    • One of my biggest concerns is what happens to grade books through the year. We collect and grade and collect and grade and, by the end, the final is worth very little and students who missed part of the year, came late, got sick, etc. have little to no chance of doing well, even if they do REALLY well. 
    • One of the ideas behind SBG is that you have a set number of standards/assignments and students are constantly working to improve their grades based on their actual progress in the class. The students and I really liked this idea. It places the importance on the progress, not the grade, as it were. 
    • So, I have separated our untextbooked curriculum into larger units. I put in each test separately (and we agreed as a group on smaller, more frequent tests), but I only collect one of each assignment that I want to. This gives a variety, but doesn't overwhelm the grade book. While we are in that unit, when we do a second assignment like one that has been graded, students may resubmit for a new grade, provided they've shown progress. 
      • E.G. Jenny was absent when we completed a dictation, so she got an IP (in progress) in the grade book. When we did a second dictation, she submitted it for a grade. 
      • E.G. Michael got a 70% on the story's comic strip. In our second story, we didn't do a comic strip, but we did answer questions based on comprehension. Michael asks his teacher to grade this new assignment in place of the previous one. 
    • This limits my grading and limits their grades, making it more about progress and less about numbers. 
  • I still put in number grades, but they are based on proficiency, NOT accuracy.
    • I despise how sometimes our system allows people to memorise and resubmit. They've not learned anything knew, cannot use anything in a new way, but they have the right answers. 
    • I also hate how an accuracy system sets students up for failure. Students who make minor mistakes are penalised, even if they fully understand how to use vocabulary and language. 
    • So, I make sure to make my expectations clear with students and assignments, and I give credit where credit is due. 
      • E.G. Sally, a Latin I student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the mother asks". She gets full credit for understanding the context of the story/word, even if tense is wrong, she didn't give a subject, etc. 
      • E.G. Mary, a Latin II student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the mother was asking". She gets full credit for understanding the context, and also for identifying it was past test, even if it is not fully correct. 
      • E.G. Bobby, a Latin III student, answered test question "rogavit" with "asks". He gets partial credit for understanding the context, but as an upper level student, it was expected that he also give subject and tense.  
    • This puts the emphasis on being proficient in the language without making it all about accuracy. Since I am not giving any multiple choice tests this year (unless I have to), I have more freedom in giving credit where it is due, as opposed to simply marking it correct for accuracy. 
  • I allow students to resubmit/retake any and every assignment as many times as they want. 
    • Getting it right is important to me, not WHEN they get it right. 
    • So, retakes are done as follows
      • can be redone any time within a larger unit (if not, on a case by case basis). 
      • cannot be redone before student attends a tutoring session
        • This ensures they hear the information again, from a different source, in a different way, and also get to hash out any issues one on one (with me or a tutor)
      • full credit is given where due. 
        • E.G. Karen, a Latin I student, answered test question "mater rogavit" with "the father sees"initially, but answered "the mother asks" on a retake. -- 100% credit given
        • E.G. James, a Latin III student answered test question "rogavit" with asks initially, but answered "he asked" on a retake -- 100% credit give
      • Resubmissions are done in class.
        • Since I'm not putting in 1,000 grades, I simply replace the old grade with a new one, provided progress is shown. 
      • I require all students who fail an assessment to come to tutoring and students all know that I expect them all to have an 80% or better in my class. Anything lower comes with tutoring, parent contact, and conferences. 

In Actuality

So, what have the reactions been? In general, I have much more relaxed students who are performing better and take more control over their own grades. I have not been asked once this year for extra credit, or how someone can "bring their grade" up. Students are clear on expectations and they know what happens when they don't meet those expectations. I provide 100% risk proof fail safes and students have the materials and tools they need to succeed. The grade book is clear and instead of getting parent emails asking about what an assignment is or a test or what was missed, I now have only gotten emails acknowledging grade changes or making sure a student is keeping up his/her end of the bargain. 

I discussed this with my parents at curriculum night and got lots of positive feedback. When it comes down to it, I am not interested in tricking my students, only in seeing them succeed. I am convinced a Standards Based Grade Book (or as much of one I can have) is part of a grander plan to do this. 

Have any of you tried SBG or looked into it? How is it going?


  1. Salve Miriam,

    Your post and Rachel's post both come at a perfect time for me.

    I spent some of the summer researching and thinking hard about SGB. I really, really like it but don't feel that I'm quite ready to make the full jump just yet (the gradebook thing you mention is part of it. I just couldn't quite figure out how to make it work with my gradebook.) So I'm trying to do something similar while still maintaining an old-fashioned gradebook and grades. (Since schools do require them.) I'm just trying to make those grades increasingly reflect my standards. Small grades like HW, Classwork, Participation, etc., make up a small part of the grade since they are so formative. I'm doing a couple of small-stakes summative assessments each quarter as well as one large one. The big change here for me this year is that I've moved my large assessment to early in the quarter to give students more time (if they need it) to reassess. I anticipate that I will be continuing to tweak this system over the next few years (perhaps even for the rest of my career- will I ever be satisfied with it?) I'm sure it will be changed even more if I can ever get the guts to go textbook-free.

    Please keep these posts coming! I'd love to hear more about how the SBG system is going as your year progresses.


  2. Thanks for your response! Absolutely it will change year by year, that's what makes a great teacher - you are always changing.

    I'll be sure to keep them coming. I have so many ideas and things I want to share... I need to pace myself! I'm planning a post this week on my version of retakes and how it fits into my SBG grade book.

    Let me know how your experience is, I'd love to see how they compare!