We're nearing the end of the school year which means a lot of educators including myself are doing a bit of self-reflection.  Through several recent conversations with the teachers in my district, it's been exciting to hear about the progress we've made in our systematic transition to standards-based grading.  To further support this anecdotal evidence, student survey data indicates we're doing a better job communicating reassessment opportunities and procedures this spring compared to the fall.  In addition 75% of students agree "I have an understanding of where I am in my learning and the areas that I need to continue to learn." That's reason to celebrate!

At the same time, we still have room to improve in implementing our grading guidelines:

  1. Entries in the grade book that count towards the final grade will be limited to course or grade level standards.**
  2. Extra credit will not be given at any time.
  3. Students will be allowed multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of classroom standards in various ways. Retakes and revisions will be allowed.
  4. Teachers will determine grade book entries by considering multiple points of data emphasizing the most recent data and provide evidence to support their determination.
  5. Students will be provided multiple opportunities to practice standards independently through homework or other class work. Practice assignments and activities will be consistent with classroom standards for the purpose of providing feedback. Practice assignments, including homework, will not be included as part of the final grade.

** Exceptions will be made for midterm and/or final summative assessments. These assessments, limited to no more than one per nine-week period may be reported as a whole in the grade book.

The biggest "aha" in recent conversations with our extremely dedicated secondary teaching staff has been in the context of reassessments.  The flowchart below has been an eye opener for us.

The recent light bulb moments have taken place when discussing the need for more classroom feedback and informal assessment.  Here's an example of how SBG should not work in a middle school math class:
Mr. Jones teaches the area of a triangle on Monday and assigns some practice problems to complete in and outside of class.  Some of the students complete all of the practice problems.  Some of them do not. All students are provided the answers ahead of time on the board.  Mr. Jones teaches the area of a circle on Tuesday and assigns some practice problems to complete in and outside of class.  Again, students are provided the answers to the practice problems ahead of time.  Some of the students complete the practice problems and some do not.  On Wednesday, Mr. Jones gives all students a quiz on these two standards.  After Mr. Jones looks at the quizzes, he sees that about half of the class still doesn't understand how to find the area of a triangle or the area of a circle.  He thinks to himself, "Well, I'm really glad we have standards-based grading, because these students can reassess."  The next day, he hands back the quiz and tells students what they need to do before they can participate in a reassessment.  When only a few students show up for a reassessment opportunity during the next week, Mr. Jones becomes flustered and wonders why students aren't taking advantage of reassessments.
When I look at the visual above and think about Mr. Jones' SBG practices, I believe he's missing the "classroom feedback and informal assessment" part of the flowchart.  Mr. Jones appears to think standards-based grading is merely teaching, testing and offering reassessment opportunities.

Here's an example of what SBG might look like in a middle school math class:
Mr. Johnson teaches the area of a triangle on Monday.  Before he assigns some practice problems, he asks each student to complete a problem on their small whiteboard and hold it up in the air.  Mr. Johnson can quickly see which students are still struggling to understanding the concept.  Rather than assigning everyone the same practice problems to complete it and outside of class. Mr. Johnson makes a quick adjustment and groups together several students who appear to still be struggling.  They will be working with Mr. Johnson for some of the remaining class time and will also be completing different practice problems than their classmates.  The next day, Mr. Johnson asks each student to view a solution to a completed practice problem that is already written in the board.  Each student must write a brief paragraph explaining if the solution is correct or not and evidence to support their reasoning.  Mr. Johnson walks around the room while students are writing their paragraphs.  Next, Mr. Johnson asks students to pair up and share their paragraphs with each other.  Finally, he asks several students to share their written responses aloud and the class collectively decides what the correct solution is to the problem.
Mr. Johnson teaches the area of a circle to round out the class period on Tuesday.  Rather than assigning practice problems from the text, he asks each student to find the area of a circle found in their home.  Each student will be asked to share their findings tomorrow in class.  On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson decides to administer a quiz that he knows will never land in the grade book.  He uses the quiz as an opportunity to provide written feedback to every student, but only after each student has once again self-assessed themselves in pencil against the standards.  Mr. Johnson writes comments by many of the students' solutions and then circles where each student is on a continuum of understanding for each standard.

Mr. Johnson asks students with relative strengths and weaknesses to pair up for seven minutes during class on Thursday.  Josie understood area of a triangle at a high level, but stunk it up on the area of a circle.  She'll be conferencing with Alex who didn't have a clue on the area of a triangle, but dominated the area of a circle.
Later in the week, all students complete another assessment, but this time it goes into the grade book.  Mr. Johnson feels pretty good about the assessment results, because he had the opportunity to see and hear students' thinking during class and was able to provide them with structured feedback through the ungraded quiz prior to the most recent assessment.   Reassessment opportunities are offered to students after the most recent assessment as well.
This fable is far from the ideal classroom, however I think it illustrates an aspect of standards-based grading that I believe deserves more attention in my own conversations with fellow educators: less grading and more feedback.