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SBG: The Pied Piper

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%

Summative Assessments

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.

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Categories: SBG
  1. June 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Thanks for the details — always helpful to learn how people are dealing with the nitty-gritty stuff. I just finished my first semester of grading this way (surprisingly similar to what you are doing) and came to similar conclusions: needing sign-ups, encouraging a variety of ways of demonstrating proficiency. One thing I really like is that the system is “format-agnostic”: the requirement is that you demonstrate a skill, not that you write a test, or a paper, or whatever. I’ve got a lot of small projects, but I didn’t eliminate them from the standards; I just broke down the standards into a quiz section and a hands-on section. I also encourage students to propose other ways of demonstrating proficiency: last year I accepted in-class presentations, a blog, a Facebook fan page, a screencast, a variety of physical contraptions, lots and lots of oral assessments (explain it to me, or walk me through your reasoning), etc.

    I used to have students sign up for reassessments on a GoogleDoc spreadsheet, but got the result you describe, where some students reassessed over and over without making progress. I’ve moved to a log-book now, and students who want to reassess must include proof of their new learning in their logbook (practise problems, a description of new study strategies, a corrected quiz with detailed comments about what’s changed in their thinking, or whatever). To request a reassessment, they submit their folder to me. It cuts down on the no-shows, as well. (Of course, it means it’s no longer possible to accomodate walk-ins, but I think I’m ok with that.). I add a bunch of looseleaf to the end of the folder, so the student and I can write notes back and forth. Sort of a low-tech blog 🙂

    Congrats on the conversions! How do you introduce people to the idea? If you have any favourite resources for people who’ve never heard of this before, I’d love to know.

    • June 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

      Thank you so much for your comments. I really like your idea of letting a student ‘talk through’ an assessment. I really need to strive to incorporate other methods of assessment.

      I introduced the math teachers at my school to SBG by sending them to Dan Meyer’s website and having them read “How Math Must Assess.” This created some discussion. I showed them how SBG had reduced my number of students who failed and increased the number of students coming in for help and tutoring. Most of them took the idea and made it their own.

  2. August 12, 2011 at 2:51 am

    Amber,
    So glad I found your post! I must give Tests because my district says so in a nutshell. My question has been how to do them but still keep the focus on the Standard Assessments. After reading this I have a few questions.

    1) How long does it take them to do the 40 question test? 90 minutes? 50 minutes?

    2) And since you give them every 6 weeks, you have 2 test and a final or 3 tests and a final exam?

    • August 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      Thank you for reading my blog. I completely understand about having to still give tests. My way around this is to give a Summative Assessment (Test) over everything we have learned so far at regular intervals. We have moved to a 9 weeks grading period this year, so I will give these Assessments every 3 weeks. They are multiple choice tests and I either give them over the computers or using my clickers. They are easy to grade and take about 45 – 60 minutes (not my entire class period). I have 3 of these for the first nine weeks and two for the final six weeks. I do not give the final one the last nine weeks because they have a final exam. I keep the focus on the Standard Assessments by weighting grades. The Standard (or Formative) Assessments are 70% of their grade. The Summative Assessments (Tests) are only 15%. The other 15% is classwork and projects. Good luck with SBG!

  3. August 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    This is so interesting but what about the competition to get an A?. If you are grading mastery, are there varying degrees of mastery. Do they merely get a mastery-non mastery grade? I like the idea but it seems that you would have to be very organized to make it work because of varying abilities of the students. My school is implementing diagnostic testing then teachers must address areas of weakness with each student. I will view the Dan Meyer video. i have lots of questions about how this may work. I am sure the video will be helpful for me.

    • August 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      Renee, thank you so much for reading my blog. I grade mastery, but in my honors courses where the competition is fierce, I only award perfect scores for perfect work the first time. If a student retests, they can earn a 9.5/ 10, but it must be flawless. This is 70% of their overall grade, so a student who earns a 9.5 or 10 on all of the Stanadard or Formative Assessments is not guarenteed an A. To earn an A in the course, they must do really well on the other 30% of graded work. 15% of their grade is projects and classwork and the other 15% are Summative Assessments. The Summative Assessments really separate the A’s from the B’s. I give them every 3 weeks now. They are multiple choice tests that normally have 40 questions over anything that we have covered so far. I do not scale these and you may not retest them. It is great practice for the ACT and our state test in TN. Shawn Cornally really helped me with SBG. His website and SBG info is here: http://shawncornally.com/wordpress/?page_id=114. Good luck!

  4. Tyler
    June 30, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Hi Amber! This is a great overview of sbg! I think I am starting to get my system in place now (my project for the summer). One quick question. You said that you usually put 3 questions per standard. How do you put a grade for that standard. For example, if a student makes a small error on one of the questions but does the other two perfectly do you give a 5? or does that take it down to a 4? I also like how you do the summative assessments and is something that I had wanted to do as well. Thank you for making this information available to us all!

    • July 1, 2012 at 3:06 am

      I’m so glad you are looking at SBG. It is one of the best things I have ever done for my students. I started giving 4.5 this year for minor errors. It helps the students to maintain an A average who are concerned about that. The rest of it is a judgement call. I did make a rubric this year that explained each grade. For example, 5 is mastered the topic with no errors. 4 is understands the topic with minor errors. 3 is progressing towards mastery. 2 is little understanding. 1 is no understanding. 0 is a student left it blank. This helped the students. It always surprises me that students never argued my judgement calls on their grades because if they are not happy, they can retest. Good luck!

  1. August 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm

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