Friday, February 28, 2014

Standards-Based Grading, Levels, & Percentages

Standards-Based Grading

Grading is always a tricky subject to discuss.  I have developed my grading system over the last 4 years shifting from points based, to standards based.  I really like how I grade and feel that it reflects exactly what a grade should, student learning.  

Being called out twice on twitter by Ken O'Connor, grading guru, really got me reflecting about how I grade.  It made me question what I am doing and whether it is really good for the students and parents.  

Here is what I do.  Anybody can do this, regardless of whether your district is doing standards-based grading or not.  This method was developed because I am the only teacher in our secondary school doing standards-based grading.  

So 4 years ago I wanted to move away from grading on points and start grading on learning.  I tossed out my curriculum, read a lot of Dan Meyer,  went to some trainings, and went at it.  I developed a list of learning targets (concepts) for 7th and 8th grade.  The only scores in the gradebook were based on assessments of those learning targets.  My gradebook is set up like this...

1. Algebraic Patterns
2. Algebraic Equations
3. Algebraic Properties

There are no "assignments, quizzes, daily points, or tests", listed.  I
Where I get in trouble from Ken O'Connor is that each learning target in the gradebook has a percentage to show how much the student has learned.  This percentage can change depending on how the student progresses during the quarter.  

The percentages are based on numerous and varied assessments of the student's knowledge.  The percentages come from a conversion chart.  The students are given feedback on a 1-4 basis.  The following picture (that I got from someone on twitter) perfectly summarizes the 4 point scale.  

I try to assess students at least 2 times before anything gets entered into the gradebook.  I do however allow unlimited re-assessments from the students.  They are required to study or remediate somehow before they are allowed to retest.  Students of course will try to just take it hoping for a miracle, but I find a quick conversation with the student quickly exposes the student as ready or not for a re-take.  

If you have doubts about re-takes, or redos take 8 min and watch this video.  Life-changing...

I emphasize the words "master" the learning target during class.  Students are taught that 2 scores of 3 or higher mean "mastery."  We even have a wall of mastery in class to celebrate students mastering a skill.  There are different levels of mastery, but I feel if a student can score two 3s, they know the standard to a sufficient level.  

Here is my conversion chart from the 1-4 to a percentage.
This is the part that gets SBG purists going.

4,4 = A = 100%
4,3 = A- = 95%
3,3 = B = 90%
3,2 = C+ = 85%
2,2 = C = 80%
1,2 = D = 70%
1,1 = F = 60%

Of course there are more combinations than this, but these are the basics that I build off of.  

Last time I got called out by Ken O'Connor it was that 90% represented mastery.  He told me to go read an article in Ed Leadership by Thomas Guskey.  So I read the article.  The article made a great point, that percentage (Based on points) is not a good reference for mastery.  The article said that 90% or 80% or any percentage cut off was not a good way to define mastery.  I totally agree with this.  Percentages, when based on points say very little about what a student knows and doesn't know.  I agree.

This is not what I do.  I convert to percentages from a 4 point rubric for 2 reasons.  

1. Our school is not a SBG school.  
I am not even sure I want our school to be an SBG school, top-down mandates like this never seem to go well.  I just wish more teachers graded more on learning and less on points.

2. Parents understand percentages.  
It is way easier to communicate to parents that 90% means mastery, than to try to explain the 1-4 rubric, and they need two scores of 3 or higher, and so on.  Parents of junior high students are busy.  They want to know how their students are doing in a quick and efficient manner.  The percent makes this possible.  

I feel standards-based grading's main emphasis is to shift the focus on learning, instead of points.  My grading system does this.  This is the first step in creating a learning-centered, student-centered classroom.

The arguments about grades, percentages, rubrics, etc... really is only about communication with parents.  To me this is a secondary argument that doesn't mean nearly as much to my classroom, my students, or the school, as truly making sure the class is focused on learning. 

This got way to long.  I really just had to think this out to convince myself that I want to keep implementing my grading system.  I have at least convinced myself.  Now if I could just convince my grading hero that keeps telling me I am wrong....



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