Language Arts Standards-Based Grading Summit Recap

March 7:

"I think it would be great to organize or host an English SBG forum for those who have been working in the 'field' of study..." -HS English Teacher
March 22:
  • April 20th date set - advertised via email and Twitter.  The LA SBG summit is born.  
April 13:
  • It became pretty clear that this was going to be a bigger deal than we anticipated.  We were going to need a tool more powerful than Skype to bring everyone together.  Solicited assistance from a friend and ended up borrowing an Adobe Connect Pro license so teachers from around the country could present, listen and participate.
April 20:

  • All three hours of the summit were video recorded for future viewing.
  • Thanks to Russ, Amy, Doug, Ken, Brad, Jim and Rebecca for sharing your implementation tips, struggles and successes!
  • Charles Barniskis, HS English Dept. Chair at Minnetonka HS, was unable to join us, however he was able to answer some questions earlier in the day.  (Nice work, Nathan!)
  • Resources posted including grade book screen shots, rubrics and parent communication letters. 
  • Shawn couldn't make it, however he posted his thoughts on some of the summit's key questions.  

(Thanks, Kathy - this graphic was our mantra for the afternoon!)

My take away:
Some say it can't be done, but standards-based grading is possible in a language arts classroom!   

Rethink Assessment: Revisited

Slides used in today's presentation:

Script is here.

Note: this presentation is an update from a previous one at the same conference one year ago.

4/20 Update
The recorded video is available here.

Competency-based education: Faster? Deeper?

I have been thinking a lot about competency-based education lately and connections to a standards-based grading philosophy..  Recently, I was talking with Russ about CBE, specifically if it creates a faster or deeper educational experience for students.   I'm hoping we'll get a chance to share our thoughts at Co-Creators Camp this Saturday with others who are interested in these ideas.  Notes from our brainstorm session follow.     

CBE as faster....
Students move through courses at their own pace after demonstrating mastery of the courses competency list.  Students may not even need to enroll in the course to demonstrate mastery.  


  1. Frank is gifted in woodworking and demonstrates mastery of Introduction to Woodworking competencies without needing any instruction from Mr. Johnson, the industrial arts teacher, so he receives credit for the course and immediately enrolls in Advanced Woodworking.
  2. Sally demonstrates mastery of all Geometry competencies after fifth week of being in Mrs. Goerend’s class.  She immediately moves to the next math course and begins demonstrating her understanding of those course competencies.

Things that resonate with me:

  • Appears to favor content areas such as math and science where pre-requisite knowledge is needed to understand more advanced concepts.
  • Students may be motivated to master content so they can move on to the next level.  “Hey, I learned this I can move on to something else!”

Questions I still have:

  • Logistics:  How does a single teacher theoretically individualize a class?  What does the schedule look like?  How does the school handle students who are constantly moving from course to course?  What happens if/when a student completes enough courses to graduate at age 15?
  • Educational philosophy:  I believe that learning can be a very social and cooperative activity.  If the incentive for students to learn more quickly, how would the teacher be able to structure cooperative learning activities that include students of multiple abilities?  I used heterogeneous groupings quite often as a classroom teacher.  Would this still be possible/realistic given the individualized nature of the system?

CBE as deeper...
Students who demonstrate mastery of course competencies at a given time (unit, semester, course) are provided more complex or challenging course competencies.

  1. Frank is gifted in woodworking and demonstrates mastery of Introduction to Woodworking competencies at some point in time.  Rather than moving to the next course, he is provided with more challenging projects.  
  2. Sally demonstrates mastery of all Geometry competencies after fifth week of being in Mrs. Goerend’s class.  Rather than moving to the next math course, she investigates many of the same ideas as her peers, but using non-Euclidean axioms.
Things that resonate with me:
  • Learning may not be viewed as something to “complete,” but instead a deeper understanding of a given topic.  It has the potential to spark curiosity of a topic rather than dismiss it as being “done.”
  • Appears to favor content areas with gray areas such as social studies.  If the class is studying the civil war, a student can easily go deeper into various perspectives on the war through additional research and thought.

Questions I still have:
  • I’ve seen this in practice in my own classroom with limited success.  Some students may not see the incentive.  “You mean if I show you I know this stuff, you’ll give me harder ideas to think about?”  This may be a function of my own teaching and/or the system we’re currently in rather than of the ideal.

What experiences or insights do you have on these two different (albeit possibly overlapping) implementations of competency-based education to add to the conversation?