I just completed my second year of Standards Based Grading (SBG/ SBAR). This year, I led the march at my school and created quite the cult of SBG followers. Half of the mathematics department dove in head first with great success.
I loved SBG the first year I implemented it, but as with any new toy, it did lose some of its shininess. I love the philosophy behind SBG and I don’t think my beliefs will change, but some of the tedious, day-to-day operations of SBG will definitely be modified for next year.
A Little History First
I implemented SBG after 25% of my students failed my class and I did some serious soul and internet searching during the summer. I stumbled upon Dan Meyer’s blog on SBG, and my life changed. (Really, life altering.) I implemented SBG silently in my own classroom with the door shut and didn’t publicize it. About two months into the semester, I was called into the vice-principal’s office. He shut the door and said, “Tell me about how you grade. I heard some kids in the office talking about it and they were excited and expressed to desire for all their teachers to grade the same way. What are you doing different?” I then proceeded to layout my vision of SBG. He wanted everyone to hear it.
SBG This Year
So, I became the pied piper. I preached SBG to the Freshman Academy math teachers and some dove in with excitement, while others tiptoed on the edge. (Some were drug kicking and screaming.) I really think that some were forced into it and I am sorry for that. SBG is based in your beliefs about assessment and learning and I do not think it can be forced on someone. The Freshman Math Academy adopted it and implemented it this year. Here is their twist on SBG: 1. Students receive a list of standards that will be measured. 2. Teachers teach the lessons . 3. After three lessons students are assessed. The assessments normally consist of 3 questions per standard. The students earn a grade out of 5 on each standard. 4. The teacher teaches three more standards. 5. The student takes an assessment with the three old standards and the three new standards. 6. The two grades for the previous three standards are combined for a total out of 10 points.
If the student chooses to reassess at this point, they must complete a suggested assignment for the lesson. The suggested assignment is normally 5 – 8 problems of differing levels from the textbook. The students receive this assignment when the lesson is taught, but they are not required to complete it unless they would like to retest the standard.
Retesting is done before school, after school, or during the one hour lunch program at our school. Students do not have to sign up for retesting. Retesting normally consists of 3 problems on the standard. Students may retest any standard during the six weeks grading period.
Grading Break Down:
- Standard Assessments 70%
- Projects / Classwork 15%
- Summative Assessments 15%
This was one of the big changes this year in doing SBG. I implemented a summative assessment every six weeks. This summative assessment is a 40 question, multiple choice test. I do this for two reasons: 1. Student bombed my final exam the year before. They were not in the habit of taking a large test over multiple topics. I felt as if my small SBG quizzes had done them a disservice. 2. My students must take an End of Course test for the State. I do not believe in teaching to the test or focusing on the test, but I am a realist. My students need to practice answering multiple choice questions. After implementing summative assessments, our final exam grades increased an average of 10% over the previous years exam.
Looking Ahead with SBG
I will never go back to the traditional way of grading in my classroom. I do have some lessons that I’ve learned and things I want to change for next year.
1. Like I do now, I want to measure proficiency on every standard at least twice. Next year, I plan on only providing written feedback the first time the students test on a standard. I will not assign the work a grade. I will mark a -, check, or + in my gradebook as to their level of proficiency, but it will only be for me to reference to see if they showed improvement or a deeper level of understanding.
2. Students will need to sign up for a retesting time. This will create a log and I think they will feel more pressure to show up and retest. I have a problem now with students telling me they are going to come and retest and then they get distracted. I will take a walk in if there is space.
3. The students will have to keep a log of their standards and I will sign it when they retest. I sometimes had students come in and retest and never show improvement. They were not taking the time to learn it and if I can see this pattern on a log page, then I can address it with the students and parents.
4. I will assess fewer standards with a formal assessment. Some of the standards that I tested could have been incorporated into a relevant and applicable project. I would much rather that a student show proficiency on regression analysis by gathering their own data and performing a regression and then make appropriate predictions. I do not need to make up a list of points and have them do this on a test. I plan on spending this summer looking at my standards and eliminating the ones that students can show proficiency on in an alternative manner.
I do not feel like an expert on SBG, but with every year, I feel more confident and eager to share my ideas. I feel as if the last three years of my teaching career have been the most exciting; and I go to work everyday eager to dive in and learn with my students. I owe this to three career changing discoveries: Blogging, Twitter, and Standards Based Grading.
I know Clinometers are a pretty classic geometry activity to teach Trigonometry and Angles of Elevation, but I was really excited when the activity became relevant to my students. I planned the activity and taught the necessary lessons. We built clinometers using straws and protectors and practiced using them in the classroom. The day finally came for us to go outside and measure items around the school that could not be measured with direct measurement. I was in the main office that morning checking my mailbox and one of the Assistant Principals was showing off the new banners my school ordered to hang on the light posts that line our school drive. My high school is celebrating our 10th anniversary. I asked the Assistant Principal who was going to hang the banners and if they had put any thought into it yet. To my relief he said no. I told him my class would be more than happy to help him.
I practically skipped to my classroom and couldn’t wait for Geometry to start. I explained the new assignment to my class. We needed to figure out how high to hang the banners and how long of a ladder we needed. That was all the instruction they needed. We spent the next 30 minutes outside seeing who could get the most precise measurements using our handcrafted devices. I did not have to explain why someone would need to know how tall some random tree is or the height of our building. They were hooked. I convinced them we needed to let the janitor know by the end of the day so he could make sure we had a ladder at school that could work. The students did a really good job calculating the height of the light poles, but the real discussion happened when we tried to decide the necessary height of the ladder. The students wanted to know what would be a safe angle for the ladder to lean and the height of our janitor. The more we discussed it, the more ideas and questions the students had, and I was ok with that. We ended the lesson by turning in our discoveries to the janitorial staff. I’m not sure if they used it or not (don’t tell my students), but my students felt a sense of pride in contributing to our campus. The real reward came the next day when the students arrived at school and saw the banners hanging from the light poles.
Gov. Bill Haslam downplayed concerns today that budget cuts would hurt schools by increasing class sizes. “Most studies have shown that teacher class size is not as direct a relationship to achievement as people have thought in the past, that having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students, OK?,” Haslam said today. I agree that it is much better for a student to be in a crowded classroom with a great teacher than in a classroom with 15 students, if that teacher is mediocre at best. I do believe that the quality of the teacher has a huge impact on learning. This raises several questions, including, how does the state determine who is a great teacher? How is it measured? The current answer includes test scores. That is a blog post for another time…
Another concern, and a more pressing one for me, is class size. In Tennessee, we currently average 30 students per class in grades 7 – 12, but by law, we can have 35 in a classroom. In my personal experience, I normally have 27 – 35 students. It is really difficult to teach a class containing 35 students. I explain it to my students this way: Our class periods are 90 minutes long. There are 35 of you. How much of my individual time do you get per day? (Math problem…) That’s right, about 2.7 minutes per day. This means we must learn as a group. Normally, this would not be a problem. My Pre Calculus students handle this very well. It does make me sad that there are several in the class that I do not get to know very well. I don’t have time to listen to personal stories from each of them or talk about their crazy weekends or last night’s game. Don’t get me wrong, I try, but it is really hard. The quiet students tend to fall through the cracks when there are 35. My relationship suffers with my honor students, but I don’t feel like the learning does to a significant degree. Let’s be honest, most of these students would learn if you placed them in front of a computer with random math videos and then asked them to answer 10 questions in a row correct. My role in the room could be optional.
My standard level classes are another story. With the adoption of new standards and the gaps in learning that are a result of implementing them all at one time, a class of 35 is just too many. I have several students that can not learn in a lecture environment and when I put them in small groups, 7 small groups is too much for one classroom. I prefer not to lecture. I want students to learn and discover math on their own and not just copy or mimic steps or algorithms I demonstrate on the SmartBoard. For learning to be authentic and memorable, students must have the ability to direct their own learning with input from the instructor. This is very difficult to do with a crowded classroom.
With all the pressure placed on teachers to have high-test scores, anything that can be done to ease our burden is not only welcomed, it is necessary. Yes, Governor Haslam, I can teach 35 students at one time. Yes, I can do my best to get them to pass their standardized test. No, I can not build a meaningful relationship with all of them, encouraging them to value education and continue their learning beyond the classroom. I can not discover their individual interests and goals and tailor my instruction to motivate them. Believe me, I will try, but I will fail. Instead of believing random studies (I can find my own study) believe the teachers: Class size matters.