Standards-Based Grading: Every Thursday, A Love Note

New to Standards-based assessment and reporting? (#sbar)

Looking to help students love learning more than points?


You can read the insanity that has been my journey through assessment reform here.

Here are a few things I got REALLY wrong during my first few years:

  • I assumed students would suddenly care more about the content if I told them the standards first. WRONG
  • I assumed students would love the chance to reassess, and that they’d only do so when they were ready. WRONG-O
  • I thought all teachers knew the difference between retesting and reassessment. EERRRRNK – WRONG

Grade Books are for Helping not Hurting:

Standards-based grading is a gateway drug into making your classroom less sucky. It doesn’t solve every problem, because, if it did, math books everywhere would disappear like Marty in Back to the Future (what do you think you get for snogging your mom?)

SBG/SBAR/Whatever consists of filling your grade book with topics (like “Civil War Causes” instead of “Civil War Quiz #1”). To illustrate my point:

Reassessment != Retesting

Second, whenever an assessment of the civil war pops up, you change that student’s score for “Civil War Causes.”

Did better? UP


Did not change? CALL MOM

These reassessments1 are not the same quiz over and over, nor are they simple “fixes” of quizzes/tests students have already taken. The fixing idea is cute and useful, but in the end, it doesn’t force the student to take in a novel situation. Speaking of, assessments need to be novel, not cookie cutter. (i.e. “The quiz will be a problem from the homework!” Like you’re being nice to them, c’mon, stop that)

Arranging your assessments and grade book this way has the benefits of easily letting students know what to work on, and easily letting teachers know where to provide more instruction.

SBG also lets classroom activities flourish, because students don’t have to worry about producing the copied “correct” answers to the worksheet thinking guide at the end of 40 minutes; they can concentrate, knowing they’ll be responsible for the content and ideas at many later dates (the plural here matters, alot a lot)

Reassessment Strategery:

Finally, build in at least three assessments of each standard/learning target. The first should be right after instruction (this will be the most formative), the second should be a about 3-6 weeks later, and the final assessment should be within the last month of the course.

Dealing with this is what I want to explain in detail. Students are REALLY bad at deciding when to take reassessments. If you leave it open to them, you’ll end up with a lot of zany psychologies floating around your room.

You’ll get the oh-whatever-he’ll-just-retest-me-later kid.


And, my favorite, you’ll get the yeah-after-lifting-I’ll-like-re-do-a-quiz-or-whatever-and-then-goes-home kid.

And all their friends in-between.

Here’s my solution: there’s an assessment1 every Thursday that covers 2-3 learning targets. These are not quizzes, they are not tests, they are not labs or worksheets; they’re love notes. A little love note from me to you about how much you know about these ideas.

Every student takes every assessment. That way I can be assured of a good, time-dependent picture of each kid’s progress.

Oh, you already got a ten little perfect girl who does too many activities?


Oh, you failed and now you think you can just quit and listen to Morrissey?


That is all.

1. Assessment ideas: written quizzes, Google Doc quizzes (cry about it Bower), teaching younger students, teaching peers, creating KA style videos, working though a novel system (like a new poem or analyzing a ship’s block&tackle), oral examination, giving a good presentation, and, my personal favorite, calling students out of Band and Choir to have “physics lessons.”