Standards-Based Grading: Hurdles are for Hurdling, Folks

For better or worse (for better) my school decided to implement district-wide standards-based grading.

This represents a very serious jump for my district, and, if your district is even considering such a move, you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to give the same grading explanation about 3,000 times. If not, don’t bother. It also represents a departure from grass roots change to a mildly top-down systemic change. We think the rule is that you’ve got to have about 75% of your staff grass-rootsy before you can start mixing up the Kool-Aid.

Here are a few things that we’ve discovered during this time of transition.

Again, again, again — !Boring:

There’s still no excuse for being bored in school. School is absolutely the most fun, exciting, and challenging thing most people do, the fact that you just laughed at that is tragic.

A push to change your grading strategy to include communicative formative assessment (commonly known as standards-based grading) does not magically change your classroom. In fact, it demands an abrupt egress from anything that resembles boredom. When you use SBG, you lose control over the coercion that points had.

You can’t give parking tickets anymore, because learning isn’t as simple as parking your car and plugging a meter.

Running Letter Grades are Mostly Inappropriate:

Running grades are really sticking in some people’s craws. Parents, teachers, students, everyone. It just doesn’t make sense to report a student’s letter grade during week 2. Nevertheless, we do, and people get mad about it. The comment goes like this:

Myyyyyyyy student is an ‘A’ student, why does s/he have a ‘C’?

Well, you see, <pushes up glasses>, um, our grading system reports what your student knows, and allows them to reassess at intervals… Your student has a developing understand of these concepts and should keep working on…

Interested Parent suddenly feels lost in edujargon and just wants to know if their kid is on track or not.

The simple solution is to override your running grades with Passes or Fails until you actually can project what they’re probably going to get.

This has two great effects:

  1. It forces everyone to look at the numbers that would have calculated the grade, thus pulling people into the SBG discussion as early as possible.
  2. We get the early pressure off kids so that they can actually think when it matters; the beginning of the course.

The Five-Week Lull:

It takes 4-6 weeks for kids to get SBG. They’ll try a lot of strategies to retain the relative ease of traditional schooling.

Oh, no homework credit? I’m not doing that, you slightly overweight person who likes math too much.

Oh, I should study? Honestly, I don’t know what that means.

Oh, I should know what I don’t know? How about I copy the definitions of some bold words in chapter 7 instead. Can I have credit for that?

About a month later, invariably, you see students cracking books by choice. We see students choosing a surgical amount of homework to do. I swear it to you, but the 5 week lull happens every time.

Good luck.