Teacher Level-Up: SBG Discovered! +10 Assessment skill!

School’s out! And you know what that means- it’s Off Season for teachers- or as I like to think about it, it’s time to cash in this year’s experience for some much needed repairs and upgrades!

One of the upgrades to my instruction I’m working on right now is a “hybrid” Standards-Based Grading model.

2In case you’re unfamiliar with SBG, check out this post i did on it last year. Basically, SBG represents a commitment to have grades accurately reflect the learning- the mastery of objectives. It makes it easier to communicate strengths and weaknesses to students and parents, and is also meant to shift the responsibility for learning onto the student. See, SBG is all about giving students authentic, actionable feedback about their learning, as the learning is taking place. So grades become not so much a handing down of final scores from Mount Oteachus, but rather a real-time reflection of learning which spurs increased engagement from the student.

Here are my two main goals:

1. I want my grades to reflect mastery of objectives.

When students and parents look at a progress report, I want them to see exactly where the student’s strengths and weaknesses lie. I want them to be able to have an idea of what needs improving, before they even come to me. I want the following to be a conversation of the PAST: “Ok, you did well on Quiz 1, but you failed Quiz 2. What does that mean? Can you remember? Let’s set up a meeting with Mr. Comans to ask him what you need to do.” No. I want the conversation to be “Ok. You did really well on the Periodic Table, but you struggled with Balancing Chemical Equations. Let’s look on the class website to see what resources Mr. Comans has available on that.”

2. I want my assessment to be as “real time” as possible.

A huge part of the SBG mindset is for grades to be changeable. SBG guru Rick Wormeli explains this way better than I can.

I want my students to have as many chances as possible to go back and continue learning after they have made mistakes.

Finding the Right Fit For Me

There are some teachers who have completely revolutionized their grade books. For example, if you think about a grade book sheet, with student names down the Y axis and assignments across the X axis, Wormeli talks about re-doing that whole system to add standards on one axis and remove student names so each sheet represents one student’s learning… to be honest it’s a bit much for my rookie SBG brain. If SBG is a swimming pool, I’m looking for the side with the hand rail and the steps, not the diving board.

RQMSSome schools have moved to a total standards-based grading mindset. For example, Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has done so. Former RQMS Principal Andrew Maxey (now working in Tuscaloosa City Schools Curriculum & Instruction) puts it this way: “we still give traditional grades but have radically changed what they mean and how they are produced.”

Three years ago we created a document we call our grading manifesto to articulate what we believe about grading. Most fundamentally, we have adopted practices that revolve around the belief that grades are simply a means of communicating the relationship between a student’s learning and the objective.  A companion point is that since learning is a process, not an event, grades should not be seen as static.  Our community has accepted this transition far better than we even hoped they would. Inside the building, we find student learning to be much increased through this change as the middle-schoolers we serve begin to shift their focus away from capturing the right number (or letter) to pursuing mastery level learning instead. – Andrew Maxey, Principal, Rock Quarry Middle School (Tuscaloosa, AL)

How awesome is that?!  I get excited seeing schools finding systems which really work for them and help them transform learning.

But my district has mandatory grade categories and weights. Yours may have these as well. So what I want to do is find the SBG system that satisfies both my needs as an educator and the administrative needs of my district. And besides, parameters are good! They give us an idea of where to direct our creative energies. Here’s how my district breaks down grades for our students:

10% NIne Weeks Test

40% Major Tests and Major Projects

35% Classwork

15% Homework


Right off the bat, I can see the 10% for Nine Weeks Tests and the 40% for Major Test grades are non-negotiable. But that’s okay! My goals in implementing SBG are (a) to have students’ grades accurately reflect their mastery of objectives and (b) to communicate where they stand in real time. As long as the tests they take are built around reflecting authentic mastery of objectives, I see no conflict there.

What I’m looking at is the 35% for Classwork, and the 15% for Homework. This piece of the pie- this 50% of grades- is the part I want to play with.

It’s worth noting here Wormeli and others involved in SBG advocate for homework to be optional. The reason for this is since all grades in SBG are to reflect actual mastery of objectives, we have to stop awarding points for completion of busy work. Making homework optional helps students conceptualize homework as the animal it should be: repetition which improves mastery, not simply assigned work to complete for a grade. It also helps kids prioritize their own learning; a student who is proficient at using the Periodic Table but performs minimally on Balancing Chemical Equations should have the option of spending more time and energy doing equations homework. This involvement of choice in completion of the homework not only helps the student’s grades and mastery of objectives overall; it builds his skills as an independent learner. The key, then, is transparency and shifting responsibility for the work.

52efe171efb5f2afd4cb0083f2758f5dAs I said, I’m just getting started on my hybrid system, and none of these ideas are my own. I’d love to come back to this topic later to show the nuts and bolts of how it will work in my classroom. One thing I do know is the portion of my grade book shifting to SBG will need rubrics- lots and lots of rubrics. I’ll be figuring out exactly what I’m looking for in each objective to confer upon students various mastery levels from Minimal to Advanced, and I’ll be share-share-sharing those rubrics with students, parents, and administrators, BEFOREHAND.

One other thing- I’m also “gamifying” my class next year, which I’ll have to come back to in a later post. I’m building competition and rewards into the DNA of how my course works. As it turns out, I’ll be working SBG in through this concept of “MP,” Mastery Points, which each student will be able to know and improve upon. You can find other ways to use Standards-Based Grading in your classroom, I’m sure, but the main thing is to get out there, start your research, and have fun making upgrades to your instruction! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

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