“But what’s my grade?!”
This is my first year of teaching that I’ve had the ability to try some grading practices that I have been reading about for years. The standards based grading (SBG) scheme is quite appealing to me. There are many other people that have blogged about this before. Start with Shawn Cornally if you haven’t read his work on the subject. His site will also lead you to others that use the system regularly to great effect. In my own classroom I have not had great effect yet, but I really like the main points of SBG and want to use it.
I keep talking about SBG being a “system,” something to be “used,” but really practicing SBG is more of a mind-set I think. The basic premise is that the curriculum you teach is broken down into different standards that are neither too broad so as to incorporate weeks of learning nor too narrow that you end up having 100 of them for the year. You then assess each standard individually. All throughout this process, you, the teacher, provides as much personal feedback as you are humanly possible able to give. Ideally, your grade book would just have these standards in it and a simple representation of how each student has done so far on that standard. The grades should never really be final until the end of the year, a luxury that no one I have ever actually talked to has. For a grade some people simply use a binary system: “yes this student can do this” or “no, this student does not yet have the ability to do this.” Others have implemented a four point scale that goes something like this:
4/4 – I am rocking this standard; I did this perfectly today. I can help teach struggling students.
3/4 – I have a small conceptual error that leads me to make a mistake but mostly show that I know how to do this.
2/4 – I have major conceptual errors that lead me to make several mistakes but at times show that I know how to do this.
1/4 – I have no idea what I am doing.
0/4 – I have not been assessed on this standard yet.
This year I am teaching chemistry for the first time in four years, and I have tried to incorporate a 4-point scale much like the one shown above for my classes. I have given a couple of quizzes/tests now where I actually do want to record a grade in the grade book. I have two or three questions over a particular standard, I read over all the responses, and then I put a grade on it. I hand back the papers to the students emphasizing the grading scale, and reminding students they can come in and reassess if they show me they have made some effort to improve their understanding.
The thing that has been most deflating to me, though, is the first question I get from the students: “But what’s my grade?” The school I currently work at (and every other school I have worked at) has a requirement that we put at least 10 grades in the grade book for each grading period. Here in Texas most schools work on a 6-week grading period; my current school follows this same protocol. So I do have to make some concessions to the way I want to grade. I can’t simply grade on the standards I have come up with, the stuff I really want the students to know. This six-week grading period we got through four standards. This means I also have to come up with 6 other grades. This is what I am struggling with right now. What do I give 6 other grades on? The whole point of SBG is to make the grade a student receives mean something more about their abilities than what grading without SBG would mean.
It will take some more time and research on my part to come up with ways to make these two ideas come to some sort of agreement, but I plan on trying to do it, because I think my students deserve to have a meaningful grade.