A Successful First Semester (An Assessment Successment)

Leif Segen is a teacher new to Iowa. He’s actively experimenting in his classroom, which is to say, he’s not accepting the laughable status quo.

Long story short, I’m a second-year high school science teacher. The education field is the place for me because it lets me help children and youth be agents of change in their own lives and in their communities. Also, this is the first semester I’m using standards-based grading.

My definition of SBG so far is: Standards-Based Grading is goal- or skill-oriented learning, goal-oriented planning, goal-oriented teaching.

I’ve been spending time here on ThinkThankThunk because I want to learn about making my teaching more meaningful and helpful for my students. This is what standards-based grading is all about. Hoping to convince you that good things can happen when you start using SBG with students, here’s a brief sample of went down in my class.

Student Epistemology:

About 75% through the semester, Sudent A says, “Why do we have to have a quiz every Friday?”

Before I can answer, Student B: “They’re not even really quizzes; they’re more like a progress check.” (And I don’t think this student has the pedagogical knowledge to forge that compliment/complement.)

Four students came in for help with momentum conservation after school on Monday. Two students made their own collision problem. After giving the problem to another student and getting the same answer they totally erupted into this: “I feel like I’m a little kid!!!”

What’s better than kids helping each other and being thrilled about it? This was gold to me after an underwhelming 15 week lull. (This is longer the advertised 5 weeks, because we’re not on the block schedule and I’m a SBG newbie.)


After assessing your students’ current progress along the path towards mastery, what’s better than clearly communicating your feedback to them? I’ll tell you: Conveying your feedback–not along a one-way street that students might detour to the recycle binz–but in a way that actually starts a continuing a dialog with your students. That’s what!

Does that sound like a pipe dream? Well, that’s exactly what’s going on between me and my students. We’re using BlueHarvestFeedback as the place for students to turn for my feedback about where they are in their learning process and what they can try next. (See @chrisludwig’s write-up on how to get started. It’s free for a year!)

That’s a noble idea, but does it work? Yes! This is really the direction my classes are going. We’re switching from students asking, “What do I need to correct?” to them asking, “How can I show that I meet this standard?”

BlueHarvest is becoming a space my students to go to see what they have yet to do learn. BH was built from the ground up with every line of code clearly intended to orient students to thinking of grades as completely based on their progress towards learning targets. It’s obvious that they understand how technologies are value laden; they take full advantage of that fact to benefit you and your students. More on that later, I suppose.

If you’ve been following this blog and haven’t tried out BlueHarvestFeedback, seriously what are you waiting for? There are other tools designed to help SBG teachers, but they’re all tuned slightly differently, and you should pick the one that fits you best. BH is for feedback conversations.

One last thing about BH – for now. My principal pretty much loves it.. He liked that I was able to pull up a student’s learning needs during a parent meeting. He likes what it adds to transparency.


Okay, I have some limitations that I’m dealing with. I’ve got close to 100 students, five different preps, and a family whom I love. No matter what feedback system you use, individualized feedback takes time. So I’ve figured out a nifty spreadsheet system that let’s me turn students’ quizzes into personalized, specific feedback that I can enter into BlueHarvest1. My heart is aching to give students more (à la feedback love notes), but I’ll get there in time.

I am among the hoards of teachers benefiting from Frank’s Keep It Simple SBG post this year. I’ve made a bunch of ideological and logistical concessions out of necessity (for sleep). This is okay, fellow wannabe SBG teachers.

Bottom Line:

I’ve got a long way to go. (I need to learn a lot more about quality assessment and genuine inquiry-based pedagogy across subject areas. The values of binary vs. numbered gradings still confound me.) But I’m thrilled to be on this path. I found it before I could be tempted by the whistle of the Disillusionment Express.

You can do this.

Are you new to standards-based grading? What are your successes? What’s changing in your classroom? What’s changing in you?

1 This rests on the =concatenate(text1,text2,...) function and the fact that BH ACCEPTS HTML INPUT!