Introduction & Vision

Standards-Based Grading

Video Transcript:

Hey Everyone! Welcome to my workshop about standards based grading! I’m really glad you’re tuning in, and I’m excited to share as much as I can with you.

In order to get the most out of the workshop, I do recommend going through the sections in order. Each section builds off the previous one, so later videos will make more sense when they are viewed in order.

Well, let’s get right to it!

In my previous workshop about Unlocking Curiosity, I shared some of the best changes I made in my classroom, and I hinted that there was one more important change that really helped create a big turnaround.

That other change was standards based grading, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it was to creating the classroom I always desired. There isn’t a magic bullet for any classroom, but if I could only choose one thing to build a foundation on, this grading system would be it.

So why did I make the switch?

It all began early in my career when I was having trouble getting students to persevere in their learning. In fact, I had a lot of students who were completely giving up, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Students would make really low test grades, and then, like clockwork, they’d stop trying for the rest of the grading period or even the entire year.

At first, this didn’t make sense to me because I thought I was doing everything right. I was kind, caring, and helpful at every turn, and I worked hard to build good rapport with students. I was saying all the positive messages like, “it’s okay to make mistakes”, and “let’s have a growth mindset and push through when we’re stuck”, and I came to class every day with a smile on my face.

Therefore, I was confused when students gave up after making a low grade because shouldn’t they be working harder than anyone to make it up?

It wasn’t until another year passed that I finally figured out what was going on. Students were actually making a good observation. They realized that once they made a really low test grade, there was almost no hope to recover. It was better to not put in the time and effort to get out of the hole because why try so hard when the odds were high they’d come up short in the end?

And then it hit me. I realized that my positive and encouraging words were actually empty. Even though I was saying the right things, in reality my actions were saying something different.

My core values of it being okay to make mistakes, that struggle should be seen as learning, and that all ideas are valued were great, but they didn’t mean much if the system in my classroom didn’t align with those values.

The old saying that actions speak louder than words applies here because I believe the way I assess and evaluate students is the loudest action in my classroom. At the end of the day, whatever values I was trying to promote could only go as far as the way I assessed and evaluated students. If I say mistakes are a good thing, this has to shine through in the way students’ grades are developed. If I say that it’s important to persevere and keep working even when it’s difficult, this has to shine through in the way students’ grades are developed.

Thankfully, after making the switch to standards based grading, everything began to change. Students began to persevere and buy into my core values because my approach to their learning backed up those values.

In addition, I began to have very few students give up. My job became a lot more enjoyable, and most importantly, students began to have much more success.

So, that’s why I switched in the first place, but why do I still believe in this system many years later?

In addition to creating the classroom culture I desire, after many years of trial and error, I now believe standards based grading is more pedagogically sound as well.

In fact, I believe there is a core issue at the foundation of many curriculum structures that are common in today’s classroom. That core issue is that many systems take a mile-wide inch deep approach to learning concepts.

Many times, to no fault of our own, we have to teach lots and lots of topics, but we are unable to truly focus deeply on any of them. I strongly agree with this quote from Jo Boaler.

“Students talk about being rushed through content…And I know this isn’t the fault of their teachers. Teachers often feel that they have to rush through content, either because they have a pacing guide telling them to…or because there’s so much content in the curriculum…I wish I could reduce the content in the curriculum or reduce the content in books…

In the US, we teach everything every year. For example, students learn fractions in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. We repeat content every year. In successful countries they don’t do that. They teach a few things in depth. And they take students through a lot less content in the school year.

One thing I’ve seen in many successful schools in the US is teachers who don’t try and teach all the content in the common core or other curriculum. Instead, they work out, what are the big ideas in the year and teach those with more open and rich problems. Usually, the smaller ideas and methods get covered. And if they don’t, they’re probably not that important. Schools that do this, even if they don’t teach all the content, end up with higher test scores…”

Have you felt like there isn’t enough time to get to everything you need to teach? Have you ever felt like you were moving on to new topics before students truly understood them?

I believe standards based grading is perfect for countering this.

But how? Well, it begins with the overall structure. Instead of trying to teach all 200 small pieces, we actually break the course into the 20 or so most important core concepts. Then, we spend bigger chunks of time on those core concepts while sprinkling in the smaller stuff when applicable.

Instead of teaching an entire unit of many concepts leading up to a major test, we spend time on each core concept in chunks, using quizzes along the way to assess how students are progressing.

This shift in focus allows us to go deeper with the most important concepts of the course, and we don’t leave students in the dust along the way. We maximize our limited time in the right places, and in the end, students are able to explore more challenging questions within the topics they’ll truly need moving forward in their academic progression.

Finally, I found that standards based grading is not only better for students, but it also cut my workload down as well. I ended up grading way less and gaining valuable time back because of it. So, if you’re feeling weary because you’re always grading assignments, this system may be for you.

There’s way more to come in our time together, and I’m excited to continue learning with you.

First, We’ll start by summarizing the system with a year in review, and that will be the next video. See you then!

12 thoughts on “Introduction & Vision

  1. I am very interested in SBG in our math classes. Every time I research into how to start; I end up getting overwhelmed by the many different ways SBG is implemented. Do you have any suggestion on a “small” step I could start? I just cant seem to pinpoint the rating scale for SBG. Thanks for a great read.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I’m happy to help. The way I got started was by reading this blog post from Dan Meyer. It’s the basic format that I use for the most part.

      Also, here is my grading system that includes the rating scale I use. I like it a lot because it easily translates to a traditional gradebook system.

      Let me know if that helps. I think those two links are a great way to get started with SBG, and then over time you will make tweaks that work for your classroom.

  2. I love this! I’ve been interested in SBG for a while but have been nervous to try it. But I’ve decided to dive into it. Thank you! Also, I was thinking of weaving in some FALs from MARS site. Check it out. I hope it helps you as much as you have helped me.

    1. Thanks so much David! I really appreciate the positive feedback. Thanks for pointing me to the FALs from MARS. Looks awesome! I’m glad the resources here have been useful. Let me know if you have more ideas for improvement!

      1. Thank you for sharing your philosophy, assessment, templates, and what should be considered best practice. Especially now, kids need to feel safe to grow themselves in a lower risk, higher reward environment. I’m a subject area leader in a small school and am excited to jump in with both feet using SBG this year.

  3. Hi Dane! I teach 7th math and will switch to SBG this year. Thanks for all of the excellent resources and advice! One question … what do you actually write on the student quiz when you first grade it? I agree it takes too long to write a lot of feedback and kids don’t read it anyway if there is a grade. Do you write a rubric score by each question? Or do you leave the quiz blank for them to self-grade, and then tell them a score after you go over it as a class? Thanks for your help!

    1. Hey Shaunda! Thank you for the kind words!

      Great question. I actually don’t write anything on the quiz. I grade it on my own, put the score in my spreadsheet, and then I pass back the quizzes the next day.

      Then, I have answer keys for students to look through and check their work. The answer keys are fully worked out so students can see the method to solve the problem. This is usually good enough for students to figure out their mistakes for the 80 level questions (and some of the 90 level questions).

      After students have some time to check their work, I take the answer keys back, ask students if they want me to go over any of the 80 level questions, and then I go over the 90 and 100 level questions since those usually need more explanation.

      Once all of that is complete, I tell students their scores individually, and after class I put the scores in the online gradebook (in my district, students and parents were able to see their grades instantly with an app, so I made sure not to release the score until we had a chance to go over the quiz).

      Let me know if that helps!

  4. Hello Dane! Thank you for all the great resources and advice. I teach Secondary Math I and II this year, I am hoping to begin my journey with SBG. I have a question: As far as the quizzes, what do you do when students are absent on the day of the first quiz? And say they come back when you are reviewing the quiz or the next class period. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question!

    1. Hey Lisett! Thank you for the kind words! I really appreciate it.

      When students are absent, I usually have them work on the quiz in the hallway so we can still go over the quiz with the rest of the class. Another option is to have them come in during lunch or before or after school.

      That usually caught most of my students, but if those don’t work, then maybe giving them a quiz with different numbers and answers could be a solution so they can take it during class without having to worry about them knowing the answers.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to share other ideas you may have!

  5. Our school is switching to SBG and I’m nervous about what to expect. Your blog has helped me feel much more comfortable about the switch! I have two comments I would like to share: 1. The first concerns the notion of quizzing as distinct from learning. I believe quizzing actually helps learning occur; in fact, much research has shown that quizzing (called ‘practice retrieval’ in the research literature) is one of the most effective learning tools. However, quizzing doesn’t always have to be graded or equal grades. So I think more quizzing is better than less quizzing! Again, it doesn’t always have to go into your grade book! 2. Second, much research has shown that spacing out the learning with repetition is a very effective learning tool—it’s called ‘spaced repetition’. So, pacing becomes much less of a concern when you know you’re going to see a topic again. If students don’t completely get everything on the first pass, it’s ok because they’re going to see it again! I’m not sure if you’ve read Make It Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel but it details some of the most effective learning practices backed by research.

    1. Hey Greg! Thank you for sharing those insights. I completely agree! After writing this post, I eventually started doing ungraded formative assessments pretty often, and it was a great way to see where students were and help us continue to grow.

      I also really like the idea of spaced repetition. Great stuff! I’ve heard of Make It Stick, but I haven’t had the chance to read it.

      Thanks again for the recommendations!!

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