Textbooks, REAL Formative Assessment and Grading Reform

I enjoy waking up every day and skimming through my RSS feed to read what other educators are thinking out loud via their blogs.  Here are a few of the recent highlights.

"Should the Textbook Determine the Essential Skills We Teach?" By Rick DuFour

In short, the people who contend your textbooks should determine the curriculum are wrong. Those who are arguing about what books to read are wrong. Shift your focus to the knowledge and skills your students must acquire and determine how you will assess whether or not they are acquiring the skills. Then, most importantly, use the results to get better at teaching the skills and intervening for students who struggle.
Bottom line: When teams of teachers begin to answer the question, "What do we want our students to learn?" the answer should not solely come from the materials currently being used.  As a former high school math teacher, I taught for the first few years straight through the textbook.  While this approach isn't necessarily a poor one, believing that the "what" of teaching begins and ends with the textbook doesn't make sense.

"Is REAL Formative Assessment Even Possible?" by Bill Ferriter

Second, I’m completely exhausted and doubtful that I can keep up this work all year long. I haven’t seen my daughter or my wife much this month simply because responsible formative assessment is an incredibly time-consuming process.
Heck, just last night I spent 3 hours grading one set of graphs because I wanted to get them back to my students in a timely way—but that required working from 5:30-8:30 and missing dinner with my family and bedtime with my little girl.
The past two weekends in a row were similar stories as I spent 5-6 hours both weekends putting exemplars together, writing remediation activities and designing new lessons to review challenging content.

Bottom line:  Providing students timely feedback during the learning experience that informs new learning for students and new instruction for teachers is a time and resource consuming process.  Bill writes about a possible solution which involves more teacher-created common assessments.  One of my biggest regrets from leaving the classroom after six years is not experiencing the power of common assessments first hand.  As a district guy now, I can't wait to see us move forward this year and in the years to come.

"Give Us The Tools We Need" by Paul Cancellieri

The primary purpose of grades is to communicate information about content mastery to parents and students.
With this purpose in mind, it becomes clear that there is a clear distinction between the skills and knowledge dictated by our curriculum, and the habits and behaviors that lead to success in both life and school. Both are critically important. Over the past few decades, however, we have combined these two pieces of information into one grade that is displayed on report cards. Conflating content mastery with work habits causes a lot of confusion....
Bottom line: Paul is frustrated with the grading in his school district and lays out one of the more succinct rationales I've seen for moving away from the points-based letter grades scheme we've all experienced.  Separating academics and behavior in reporting is a major tenet of my philosophy of assessment/grading.  
I'm finding that the feeds in my RSS reader could use a refresh.  Hit me up with your favorite assessment/grading links from the past month or so in the comments.  Don't be bashful about promoting your own stuff!

Standards-Based Grading: The "College Expectations" Dilemma

Kelly has a nice write-up about how her physics students are starting to see the benefits of standards-based grading through utilizing test corrections.  She really hits the nail on the head, re: preparing students for the "real world."

What about college? aka “They won’t be graded this way in college.”
I hear that objection occasionally, and it even came up again at our science department meeting this week. Honestly, it is a bit of a nonsense statement/question.
Moving beyond the idea that it does not make sense to do each year what people will eventually do one day in the future (should 8th grade look like college? How about 4rd grade? 1st?) and that the more important questions are about how a choice in teaching will benefit them this year, we can ask instead, “What are students taking with them from having this experience?”
So, in addition to learning physics better, increasing their confidence as a student, seeing themselves improve with a challenging skill over time, they are also rather specifically learning how to milk the benefits from making mistakes, what to do when they aren’t immediately successful, and how the best students have been succeeding in school all this time.
In workshops I've done in the past, I use an example that's a bit more over the top when someone asks about the implications of standards-based grading on higher education.  It goes something like this:
I attended a small private college here in Iowa during my undergraduate years.  The largest class I had was Intro. to Psychology.  We had 80 students in a lecture hall.  Take away that single lecture hall experience and all of my classes were a lot like high school (and graduate school!) with 35 students or less.  Class was fairly interactive and we all knew each other my first name.  I hear that down in Iowa City at the University of Iowa, lecture halls are the norm, at least in the introductory courses.  It's not uncommon for freshmen to sit in a room of 200-300 students and take notes.  (I usually then pause and ask someone in the room to confirm this to be true...which so far, has always happened)  Would we ever consider doing this in K-12?  "Okay, kindergartners...let's put all 100 of you in a room for 60 minutes and see if you can learn a few sight words" or "Hey 7th graders, let's see if we can all learn about the states in capitals in the gym where all of us can fit!  You know, this is what it's going to be like in college."  No way.  We know that some educational practices are better than others.  All of us try to do what's best for our students and that often involves providing them with an experience that we know will be contrary to what they might experience in higher education.  If we can all agree that standards-based grading is better for our students, let's not worry about what some universities are doing in lecture halls or with grading practices. 
Confession - I like Kelly's rationale better than my own.  Get over there and give her the pat on the back she deserves for taking on this difficult issue.  You'll read about how her new grading practices are catching on with her students, too.  You won't be disappointed.

"Scholarly" Resources for Standards-Based Grading

August 2013 Update:  A complete list of scholarly articles related to standards-based grading is available here.

Once a month or so, I get an email or a tweet from an educator asking for help locating standards-based grading conversation starters and resources.  The question usually sounds something like,

I want to help my principal/team/colleague learn more about standards-based grading.  Where should I start?
There are scores of resources available in the uncensored world known as Twitter and edublogging.  For example, a de-centralized SBG gala ran its course not too long ago.

Sometimes it's nice to have peer-reviewed literature available to provide more scholarly fuel to the standards-based grading conversation.  Here are a few of my favorite journal articles in no particular order.

  • Scriffiny, Patricia L. "Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading." Educational Leadership 66.2 Oct. (2008): 70-74. 
  • Colby, Susan A. "Grading in a Standards-Based System." Educational Leadership 56.6 Mar. (1999): 50-55.
  • Guskey, Thomas R., and Lee Ann Jung. "Grading and Reporting in a Standards-Based Environment: Implications for Students With Special Needs." Theory Into Practice 48 Jan. (2009): 53-62. 
  • Jung, Lee Ann, and Thomas Guskey. "Standards-Based Grading and Reporting: A Model for Special Education." Teaching Exceptional Children 40.2 Nov. (2007): 48-53. 
  • Melograno, Vincent J. "Grading and Report Cards for Standards-Based Physical Education." The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance 78.6 Aug. (2007): 45-53. 
  • Jung, Lee Ann, and Thomas R. Guskey. "Grading Exceptional Learners.Educational Leadership 67.5 Feb. (2010): 31-35.
  • Guskey, Thomas R. "Helping Standards Make the Grade." Educational Leadership 59.1 Sept. (2001): 20-27.
  • Scott, Shelia. "What's in a Grade?" General Music Today 14.3 Winter (2005): 17-24.
  • Clymer, Jacqueline B., and Dylan Wiliam. "Improving the Way We Grade Science." Educational Leadership 64.4 Dec. (2006): 36-42.
This is not by no means a complete list, but is instead a potential starting point for those looking to expand their repertoire.  What "scholarly" resources have you been using to educate others about the benefits of standards-based grading?  Add your additions to the list in the comments. 

Edit: 9/4/2011 - Thanks, Jason for the SBG Gala 5 and 6 corrections.