Standards-Based Grading: Converting to Letter Grades [VIDEO]

In my experience and observation, teachers and systems have used one of three systems when converting standards to letter grades in a standards-based grading environment.


In the video above, I suggested each standards to letter grades conversion method has its own limitations, however they also bring with them specific strengths.

Strengths and limitations when considering the Marzano Method

  • Some student information systems or grade books may not allow teachers to average standard scores and in turn the teacher would need to do this calculation and override the final grade.
  • One limitation of this method is that a student can have a poor understanding of a concept (standard), however it does not dramatically affect the overall letter grade and in turn a grades-driven student may not be driven to continue learning the concept.
  • Although a broad scale was illustrated in the video (3.00 - 4.00), it could easily be further broken down to include plus and minus letter grades (i.e. 3.00 - 3.25 = A-).  The conversion scale parallels many schools' grade point average scale.  For some buildings/districts, this may be helpful in communication with parents while in others in may create additional confusion.

Strengths and limitations when considering the Convert to Percentages Method
  • Because this method uses total points and percentages, this method probably plays the best with many student information systems and grade books.  
  • One limitation of this method is that a student can have a poor understanding of a concept (standard), however it does not dramatically affect the overall letter grade and in turn a grades-driven student may not be driven to continue learning the concept.  
  • I'm going out on a limb and believe this method may be the easiest for parents and students to understand due to their experience with traditional grade books.  
Strengths and limitations when considering the Piecewise / Logic Function Method
  • I have not yet seen a student information system or grade book that allows teachers to create this type of standards to final grade conversion, therefore it will take a teacher manually calculating the grades or utilizing a spreadsheet to do the calculation.  In turn, final grades will likely need to be manually overridden by the classroom teacher.
  • The teachers I have spoken with indicate this method helps grades-driven students focus more on their current weaknesses and less on a percentages/averages game.  
What other strengths and limitations have you experienced with these three methods?

What other standards to final grade calculations have you used?  

Feel free to add your experiences in the comments! 





Why does a 4-point grading scale make sense in standards-based grading? [ACTIVITY]

Experience it yourself:

  1. Invite four teachers in a room to score 20 essays, math problems or lab reports using a 10 point scale. 
  2. Look at the diversity of scores among the 20 essays, math problems or lab reports. 
  3. Now, ask the same four teachers to score the same 20 student work samples using a *4-point scale.
  4. Once again, examine the diversity of scores among the 20 essays, math problems or lab reports. 
*The same exercise could be done using a 3-point scale or a 5-point scale.

--
I (sort of) gave this exercise a try once and concluded "When using a smaller scale (4 scoring possibilities vs. 10 scoring possibilities), mathematical logic kicks in: humans are more consistent when given fewer scoring possibilities."



Class rank...an example of higher education adapting to K-12 policies and practices.

Myth: High schools must adapt to the way higher education operates.

Reality: When high schools change the information they're willing to provide about their graduates, higher education will eventually adapt.

Case in point:

Applicants to University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa who graduate from high schools that do track class rank will continue to be assessed under the original formula. Only those students without class rank will assessed using the new model.
But that number is growing. About 31.6 percent of freshmen across the three regent schools in fall 2013 didn’t have a class rank.
The board charged its staff to create a standard alternate admission calculation for those without class rank because each university has developed a different approach for assessing those applicants

What would happen if high schools stopped calculating grade point average or issuing letter grades?

SBG Video Project

Eric and I have embarked upon a new project: a 12 episode video series communicating the most pressing standards-based grading topics we've encountered during our experiences as teachers and administrators.

The first episode (embedded below) describes standards-based grading and provides an overview of the series.


In the second episode, we do our best to flesh out the similarities and differences between competency-based education and standards-based grading.  We will be posting the rest of the videos as soon as they're recorded!

A big thanks goes out to Iowa ASCD for publicizing this video series.

2014-15 goals [mid-year review]

Prior to the beginning of the school year, I publicly reflected on my past four years as a district administrator.  In addition, I established several goals for the 2014-15 academic year.  In no particular order, they were...

  • Continue attending the quarterly area curriculum director meetings (Develop existing relationships and strengthen new ones)
  • Seek out a leadership role in the area special education director meetings (Deeper learning in this area.  Consider finding an informal mentor)
  • Spend several hours observing and reflecting with district administrators in a similar role around Iowa.  (Establish a more formal learning community, face-to-face or virtual)
  • Pursue central office academic literature describing validated practices of central office administrators.
We're now exactly halfway through the school year, so I thought it might be a good idea to provide an update on each of these goal areas. 

Continue attending the quarterly area curriculum director meetings
Looking back:  
Within my area of the state, we've had several curriculum director meetings.  I was able to attend both of them and met several directors new to the area or to their positions.  I invited one director who works within thirty miles of me to spend a morning together for the purpose of sharing ideas.  Although this director is shared between two districts, I felt our contexts were close enough that we established a lasting professional connection for years to come. 

Looking ahead:
I plan to attend the remaining curriculum director meetings as well as several other meetings that may be geared towards central office administrators.  Our district was awarded nearly $400,000 grant for next school year to implement a teacher leadership system (more about this in a future post), so I anticipate reaching out to several area curriculum directors who have previously established similar teacher leadership systems to learn the ins and outs of a new area of education for me.

Seek out a leadership role in the area special education director meetings
Looking back:
I've emailed and talked on the phone with a person who is well respected and well-versed in special education.  I had hoped to have at least one special education director meeting under my belt by now.

Looking ahead:
We're co-planning the first special education director meeting, however it will likely not take place until February.  The realist in me believes two quality meetings will be a success for this school year and hopefully enough momentum to build on for future years.

Spend several hours observing and reflecting with district administrators in a similar role around Iowa.
See comments above describing the curriculum director meetings, morning planning and anticipated time that will be spent discussing the teacher leadership system.  I have also made informal contacts with several district administrators from other areas of Iowa to throw out the idea of a virtual meeting every month or two to bridge our physical distance travel constraints.

Pursue central office academic literature describing validated practices of central office administrators. 
Looking back:
This is a goal area I have not much progress, if any at all, since the summer months. 

Looking ahead:
Beginning in a little over one week, I will begin a graduate course entitled "Instructional Leadership that Facilitates School Improvement."  I am hopeful the readings and discussion will director or indirectly point me in the right direction.  The first snow day we have this year, I plan to do some serious EBSCOhost and ProQuest searching!

I welcome your accountability and look forward to posting another update around Spring Break as well as another at the end of the school year.