Standards-Based Grading: Spotted In the Wild!

I was sent this link by commenter Frank N., thanks so much! It is an article from about a few Portland area schools, and their mandated application of standards-based grading. The article has some really great stuff, and I’d recommend reading the whole thing, but here are some excerpts (check out the comments, if you’ve got the stomach for comments):

Known as “proficiency-based education,” the approach is generating controversy because students receive little to no credit for homework, attendance, classwork or extra credit — only for demonstrating knowledge of key material.

My reaction is: what else should kids be getting credit for? This excerpt takes a whole pile of heat in the article’s comments section by those who think kids need their faces shoved upon a grind stone, and held “accountable,” and made to meet deadlines. I feel like they have this newspaper-presses view of the world, and if you can’t meet a deadline you’ll be fired and living in a refridgerator box by the river.

Meeting deadlines and expectations is obviously important, there aren’t enough refrigerator boxes to go around. So make it one of your standards. It seems to me that this heavy-handed mandated standards-based grading in Oregon is suffering the same problems that any edu-fad suffers: When you make teachers do things they don’t want to try, or don’t see the motivation for, they suck at it. Then you get pissed parents, and everyone wants to blow everything up, give it all a new name, and do it all over again.

Implementing Standards-Based Grading is hard. You have to really think about how it will better serve your students. It DOES NOT always take the form of test re-takes. The article posits:

If they don’t prove proficient the first time, they can redo tests or projects until they get them right.

Really?! That’s what they’ve distilled out of the volumes of research and articles on SBG?! There’s much more to it than this. Can you guess the response from the teacher’s unions? Can you guess the response from parents who only care about grades?

Some teachers resent the extra work required to re-teach and re-test outside class. Many students prefer the traditional paths to good grades and balk at having to retake tests until they demonstrate knowledge of every skill.

As a teacher, I’d resent it too, if I didn’t want to do it! And students!?!?! Students not wanting to do extra work to get their slice of grading cake?! Surely you jest! (I’m livid right now, pacing, and nervously shaking) The aforementioned wronged students even made a facebook group about how much they hate it. There’s evidence for reversion for you. Kids spend less energy than it takes to swig a Mt. Dew to create a hate group about something that makes them have to do work – on facebook! Kids make notoriously good decisions online, so we should take this as grave contrarian evidence (is there a sarcasm HTML tag?)

And it finally comes out:

…agreed to return to using traditional letter grades on middle school progress reports instead of marking “proficient,” “highly proficient” and “not yet proficient.”

They made the cardinal sin of education reform. They removed A through F. We can debate the merits of a 5 tiered reporting system some other time, but how on Earth did they expect non-professional educators (parents) to accept a 3-level reporting system? Really, Oregon, you removed two levels of information reporting? Smooth. Let’s just start reporting our grades in French, and maybe the parents will love that too.

The article continues on to discuss various anecdotes, which is generally a shady way to support an argument. There’s the kid that loves it, the Mom with one kid for which SBG works and for the other which it doesn’t (he doesn’t want to re-take tests…)

What sense can we make of all of this hubbub, Basil?

  • Standards-Based Grading is NOT simply allowing re-takes (CORNALLYHULKSMASHOREGON !!^%$#)
  • Standards-Based Grading is a better way of interpreting the assessments/assignments you already use
  • Don’t force change on teachers who don’t want it, you’ll always precipitate splinter hate groups of parents and teachers that will undermine the whole thing. People will only change their behavior in order to gain something. Prove that your kids are more responsible and better educated throught the implementation of SBG in your room first.

Feel free to comment, lots.