Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Blessing and Curse of Using Standards Based Grading

Reflecting on my implementation of standards based grading, the blessing is the conversations with students about their understanding.  The curse is the lack of responsibility the students take in keeping track of the standards they do and do not understand.

At the end of class on Friday, one of my students approached me with a question: "Mrs. Beck, can you help me, I worked really hard on a project for one of my classes, I spent many hours outside of class, and put everything I had into it, and I failed.  What can I do to fix it?"  This student was desperate, he did not want to fail a major project.  He came to me because in my class this failure would be a learning opportunity that he would be able to fix.  As I searched for some encouragement and hope for this student, I knew that if I had not implemented standards based grading this conversation would not be taking place.  What words of wisdom could I give this student as he searched for advice as to how to advocate for himself?  I realized I had blessed and cursed this student with standards based grading.

As I was catching up with the #sbar (standards based grading) hashtag on twitter this morning I came across some great blog posts that really hit home with some areas I am struggling with in my process of implementing standards based grading.  

My biggest struggle is getting my students more involved in the process.  I am working towards the time when students will walk up to me and say something like, "Mrs. Beck, I need some help with these standards, and I need to prove I understand these standards."  Right now, many of my students are coming to me to ask what standards they have 1's or 2's in.  Although this is frustrating, I also know that this is part of my journey of implementing standards based grading.  Enter the first blog post I read today:

Brian Bennett - Changing Teaching by Changing Grading

After reading Brian's post, I have the following plan for increasing student participation in the standards based grading process.

  • I can statements for each of the essential math standards for our unit on quadratics for each student
  • Self assessment grades (similar to status of the class) three times a week from each student based on the I can statements
  • Opportunities for the students to show proof of understanding in multiple ways each week
  • Using Brian's 5 point scoring system for self assessment so that the students really consider where they are in the learning continuum.
One change I have made this year is to have students correct their own assessments.  In the past I would correct them and then after handing them back, have the students reflect and write about what they understood and what they need work on.  It was a struggle until this year when we began correcting the tests together.  When we go over the various ways to solve the problems together, the students see the errors of their ways and their reflection is more meaningful.  And because of standards based grading there is not a need to try and change their answers (or cheat), because the students know they can always show proof of understanding at a later time.  I am looking forward to using Brian's guide to increase my students' participation in the #sbar process.

My next area is that of communicating more effectively with parents.  I had a parent email me this week asking for help with her son and that she did not understand what the 2- for his grade meant.  I teach in a district that is known for the high test scores on standardized tests.  The parents are also very comfortable with the grading system and rankings that are in place.  Implementing standards based grading can be a challenge in this community.  So, I really appreciated Terie's blog post.  I will be working hard the rest of this year and each following year to communicate with my parents more effectively in regards to standards based grading.

Terie Engelbrecht - Communicating Standards Based Grading to Parents

Finally, Stacy's post hit home for me in many ways.  She reminded me that kids want to succeed and that as teachers we need to make sure we are teaching our grade level standards!  As a parent I can really relate to her post!

Stacy Piacentini - That's Someone's Child

When I started #sbar, I had blind faith, I closed my eyes and jumped because I believed it was what was best for my teaching and my students' learning.  I also knew that because I was trying something new it would be a learning process.  I have been making adjustments as I progress.  It has been a giant science experiment, lots of tweaking and tinkering and re-calculating.  Even though I am a beginner, I feel supported by the #sbar folks on twitter who are on the path with me.