“Standards-Based Grading” != “Retesting”

(Note: “!=” means “does not equal” in most computer languages, sorry if you already knew that)

It’s summer, so I’m not in the classroom. My daily encounters with puberty, math, and power tools hasn’t provided me with much blog fodder. [Also, I’m spending pretty much every waking hour coding the SBGradeBook, and I’m super excited about it. It does do your taxes, and it will be your life-coach (Sam Shah, looking your direction). None of that is true, but it will help you implement SBG, and I’m hoping to release a couple hundred beta accounts in early August. All of you that have emailed, twittered, and commented: you’re in. I sincerely appreciate the interest and am really humbled; I hope I don’t underwhelm.]

Wait, let’s get back to the topic at hand: what would Think Thank Thunk be without a gratuitous post about SBG implementation and how it taught me to love woodland creatures? More than a little put out, I can tell you that, missy!

I’ve been getting some really great emails and comments lately about starting to do SBG (you guys have time to reflect/plan now that the terror monster school is out, or what?). The biggest misconception is the reassessment piece. Many of you are worked up into a certifiable tizzy about how to handle all of the student-generated reassessments. How many can they do? When will they show up? How will I generate questions? What happens if I under-cook pork? It’s scary out there, and I think we should rewind a bit and remind ourselves why we want to switch to SBG:


Too loud? I think not. I’m the SBG Bulldog, and it pisses me off when kids don’t learn. Like passive-aggressive-pee-on-the-couch pissed off.

SBG, coupled with compassion and a mild infection of constructivism, can transform the most pedantic classrooms into learning factories.

If you’ve been wondering where I got these ideas — which I admit are not new — I will claim to have thought of them myself. !!– Holy Paradoxical Plagiarism, Batman –!! I didn’t know until later that “SBG” was, like, a thing. It just made sense to me, and that’s how I know this isn’t some self-esteem-esque garbage fad.

SBG arises from the grading dilemma. It arises from the fact that you should not be punishing students for practicing. It arises from the realization that the 1:1 work:school analogy is a fallacy built on a lie feasting on nonsense. My implementation of SBG was just a little thing I tried to get kids to emphasize knowledge over accumulating points.

Meat and Taters:

It does not, however, boil down to simply retesting. The basic idea is this: you want to give your students the incentive and opportunity to show that they can and will learn, and that their understandings are dynamic. This is impeded by grading everything, which makes it possible to for a kid to dig a grave instead of just a hole. If you simply view SBG as retesting, you’re missing the point. The point is to track development and to nurture it. The point is to have a systematic effective way of telling kids what they do and don’t know, and having them be able to remediate for themselves.

Simply scheduling three built-in assessments of one standard is ok. It’s the way you use it that matters, though. Kids learn how assessments work, they can perform well on a given type of assessment without actually knowing things (how many of you are “good test takers,” and what the hockey sticks does that mean anyway?) Are these really assessments, or are they just more games?

You know what, screw the acronym: I’ve done what I promised I would never do, use an edu-jargon acronym. I feel dirty. I feel like I’m going to get published in some big-kid esoteric journal now, instead of rambling incoherently into the wind that is the blog-o-net. I’m so sorry.

SBG is just breaking your class up and seeing assessments for what they are: indicators. Once you make this switch you’ll stop seeing your final exams as holy grails, and you’ll stop using quizzes as a classroom managment strategy (you know who you are).

Everything is an assessment. Once a kid realizes that a hallway conversation can affect their grade (up or down), or that doing something awesome in another class can show you proficiency in some skill that they bombed in your class the previous month (e.g.: presenting well), the kid will get the only important message: Learning is what matters; points are made up currency that have no value outside the school’s walls. Points are a scurge, a charlatan, a menace, and are little more than a necessary evil.

I don’t care how you implement Standards-Based Grading. I don’t care if you call it that. I don’t care how or when your kids reassess, but I do care why. Are they doing it for points, or are they doing it because they worked their tails off, and now they can come in — beaming — to show you how they can now factor a cubic, and that they know why on God’s green Earth someone would actually want to do that. (Don’t forget the last part.)