Standards-Based Grading: Misconceptions

Standards-based grading, SBG, or #sbar, is a classroom assessment strategy that honors the variations in time-to-learn for each student. SBG does this by assessing students over the same idea multiple times and using the aggregated data to give a final mark weighted towards most recent information. It therefore punishes students for cramming-and-forgetting by lowering early high scores and rewards students who retain or eventually master topics. SBG classrooms often do not give credit for homework, although students do piles of it once they see the connection between studying and performance. These classrooms often list skills, ideas, or standards in their gradebooks rather than specific assessments (Ancient Egyptian Culture vs. Egypt Quiz 1)

@ThinkThankThunk, “what are the most common #sbar misconceptions?”

Here’s what I got back:

Marshall Thompson (@MTChirps) – #sbar=unlimited retakes

Matt Townsley (@mctownsley) – If I allow reassessments, kids won’t try the first time. More kids will stop doing hw.

John Scammell (@thescamdog) – Too many second chances is unfair to kids who get it right the first time.

Rob McEntarffer @rmcenta – College/employers/parents absolutely, positively need/want/love A-F grades

Mrs. Gates (@MrsGatesUHS) – =no deadlines, students are not held accountable, real life does not allow for redos

Michael Pershan (@mpershan) – splitting up your tests into skills and allowing retakes will help students learn stuff better

And, to add some flavor, let’s hear from Urban Dictionary:

A grading system that is starting to be adopted by high schools. Basically, homework doesn’t count, only tests. Supposedly it is to prepare students for college, but it just results in failing grades. Seriously, this system is stupid. Even honor roll students are failing.
Guy 1: I’m failing Algebra 2. I missed one question on my test and my grade dropped from a B to a D. I hate Standards Based Grading.
Guy 2: You and everyone else.

 

If this isn’t a sign that our little community of zealots needs to be doing a better job, I’m not sure what else is.

Let’s talk battle plans.

Here are some things I’m not willing to negotiate

  1. This is too important to screw up.
  2. Using time as a unit of learning is ridiculous.
  3. We are presenting assessment reform to communities that aren’t ready for it.

Time as a Variable

Traditional school and grading are so inefficient, that it’s a wonder to me that any of our students actually make it through college

What do I mean by inefficient? I’ll let you answer that question knowing that most HS graduates have logged something like 13,000 hours in a classroom.

That seems paradoxically high and low. I mean, if I spent 13k hours doing something, I’d expect to come out a champ, but when you think about what school is tasked to do, 13k seems paltry in the face of teaching: reading, writing, arithmetic, mathematics, how to not get syphilis, how to not judge people who aren’t your color, why creativity is part of being a human, and a bunch of other stuff.

So which is it? Too much, or too little? The answer is: NO ONE CAN POSSIBLY KNOW THAT.

Which is why an assessment scheme that honors the individual is so important, and why we can’t screw this up. I really need students to understand that failing, struggling, and frustration are just a part of the learning process.

I also need them to know that punctuated study is also totally normal, although completely missing from the standard educational experience. That is to say, that I’ve been learning General Relativity and differential geometry for 3 years now, and, if I was in a class, I’d probably have an F or some crap like that.

Honoring the individual does not mean giving retakes. Stop it. It means that as you move through the semester assessments of ideas need to happen again and again. My school has the terrible problem of putting the standard before the narrative. We have a bunch of kids running around worried about what will be on what exam that they’re not stopping to think about what they should be doing to solidify the narrative. No wonder people think #sbar is about retaking until you get the grade you want.

I’m trying to create a classroom where a student’s knowledge of something like commas is secondary to their need to communicate the results of an experiment to an audience that matters to them. That’s why I’ve switched to totally BlueHarvest and blogfolio methods.

Educating Future Futures for Fortuitous Futuring:

If I hear one more person say that we’re educating 21st-century kids with a 20th-century model I’ll probably jump off of a 19th-century bridge.

That said, if that kind of statement has finally managed to become a trope, it probably means that it stems from a fairly serious problem: the psychological fallacy of points has created schools full of gamers where learning is often laughed at.

I’m convinced, from watching my students, that fixing grading is a top 5 education problem1, and I’ll quit teaching to sell cars if we muck this up.

Grading is the linch-pin-keystone-underlayment-foundation of our factory model of education. It goes like this:

Teacher: OK KIDS, YOU HAVE ABOUT 135 HOURS TO LEARN THIS CRAP

Student: Wow, this is a lot about parabolas, I have a question, are all curvy things parabolas?

NO TIME NO TIME, I NEED TO KNOW WHO’S THE FASTEST SO I CAN TELL MR. FORD WHO TO HIRE.

He’s still alive? Didn’t his company like destroy our economy a few years ago?

BECAUSE WE SENT HIM ONE OF YOU SLOW ONES; GOOD GOD HURRY, THIS IS A DIRECTORIX…

Obviously, if you’re on the Internet reading education blogs, you think that’s silly, but in the end we don’t grade on grit, we grade on time. A lot of students then develop an aversion to being labeled slow, so they’d rather be labeled has-a-full-time-job-at-sixteen, or they figure out they’re good at cramming-forgetting and become I’m-just-taking-calculus-so-I-never-have-to-do-math-again.

So, taking time out of the equation is tricky, especially if you’re having to hack a preexisting schedule, but it can be done.

Community Consensusing

Finally, we have to do a better job of letting our communities in on this. Most people have a sense of the 21st-20th-19th-century problem, but very few have time to think about how fixing it will actually look.

We need to send adults back to school. I’m doing this with my other job, and we’re calling it the Billy Madison Project, although evidently Universal has objected, so we’re going to call it the Shampoo-Conditioner Project.

Basically, we’re sending business leaders, parents, legislators, and whoever else, back to live a day as a student. Then they have to spend an afternoon going through a design protocol for the school experience.

SURPRISE: no one ever includes grading and points in their re-design.

We need to make sure our parents have had time to grapple with these problems, too. Since my entire district has gone SBG, I’ve had some truly bizarre conversations with parents. Conversations where parents will admit that their student doesn’t find anything interesting, or that he “hates” English. Then, when the district attempts to implement a grading shift to work on these issues, the same parents demands that their student experience school “the way they did.”

Now, do not take this as an indictment of my district or my students’ parents, who for the most part are saints. What I am saying is that change is hard, especially when you’re trying to tell people that their students have been playing a game that isn’t worth playing, and you have a school where most kids were/are winning.

Comment Fun:

Take the Urban Dictionary quote from the beginning of this post and find all the misconceptions. I count 13.

A grading system that is starting to be adopted by high schools. Basically, homework doesn’t count, only tests. Supposedly it is to prepare students for college, but it just results in failing grades. Seriously, this system is stupid. Even honor roll students are failing.
Guy 1: I’m failing Algebra 2. I missed one question on my test and my grade dropped from a B to a D. I hate Standards Based Grading.
Guy 2: You and everyone else.
1. I don’t actually have a top 5.

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