Standards-Based Grading: Haters Gonna Hate

Standards-based grading is a revelation for those looking for a better way and for those who are fed up with their students caring more about points than actually knowing something new.

I’ve been using SBG for a few years now, and I love it. My students and I clearly communicate about what big ideas they need to work on, and which ones they need to maintain understanding of.

This has been awesome.

It has refined my assessment practices, and SBG has completely changed the way my students see class time. They work for fun, knowing that their learning will be surgically assessed later on. They are free to explore what they are doing that day without fear of “analysis questions” or completing “thinking guides.”

Uh, Oh:

But, since the beginning, there’s been a little, dark seed in the pit of my stomach. It has started to grow, now, and I’m not sure how to deal with it; the practice of grading students with numerical scores, in any fashion, just seems, well, barbaric.

I was grading a quiz. It had four questions: The first dealt with the geology of Iowa (Go Hawks!). The second dealt with the formation of sedimentary rocks. The third was about the molecular structure of minerals. The fourth dealt with the formation of igneous rocks.

The practice of SBG has helped me create quizzes, like this one, that are quite to the point. I asked those four questions, because I wanted to gauge my students’ progress on those four points.

What I finally realized shocked me: after discussing the answers and refuting/confirming certain responses and student ideas, I realized that the actual grading and ranking was meaningless. They all had considered the prompts. They all had thought about their answers and had to deal with the correctness or lack thereof of their own responses.

Isn’t this all I’m looking for? Why do I have to decide which slightly incorrect response is worth 6/10 and which one is worth 8/10? Why must we play that game? Haven’t they already gotten out of the experience what I ultimately want: a formative check on understanding?

There was a comment I received at the onset of writing this blog. I forget who wrote it, and it was pretty condescendingly toned, but they essentially laughed at all of us for talking and thinking so much about grading.

I wrote this guy off.

“Haters gon’ hate,” I thought.

“Not in my school. We still grade, so I want my system to be as perfect as possible,” I thought.

I’ve now made it almost half-way through a semester, without grading a single thing in my bioethics course. They’ve written a lot. They’ve read a lot. They know that I expect a hugely synthesis-based project at the end of the course. They still do it.

Sure, I have a few students that don’t do anything, but how many do you have?

I give a lot of feedback. I write letters back to these students. I break the letters up into content standards just like I always do: consistent philosophy, comma usage, clear thesis, warranted thesis, understands basic genetics, etc . . . There just aren’t any numbers.

It’s exactly the same. I see growth, they get the memo, I see more growth.

But, it’s not the same, you know? I’m in a weird place right now, any help?