reading too much about SBG

I’ve been spending a good deal of my summer vacation reading education blogs.  Yes, it’s addicting.  But like others before me, I’ve become fascinated with Standards Based Grading.  This is the beginning of my description into this particular new world.

First, a bit of context: I’m moving to a new school next year that uses portfolio assessments in place of the battery of subject-based Regents tests. I’ve got (approximately) one million ideas buzzing in my head due to PCMI, reading way too many blogs, and of course the field of possibilities provided by a new environment. So I don’t want to bite off too much, but…

Well, there’s this great thing called SBG! Every blogger who matters is gonna do it this year! So I want to get my piece.  (note: apparently I am supposed to include the code #sbar in my posts for obscure technological reasons—the longer I go without understanding Twitter, the older I feel…)

For me, @dy/dan’s post “On Getting The Concept Checklist Wrong These Last Six Years” was a part of key that unlocked things for me and made it all seem possible. The pictures say the whole story for me.

First shot:

dy/dan's first concept map

Now, revised:

new, improved!

We focus on information that tells students what they have mastered and what they still need to improve on, not on how many tries it took them to demonstrate that mastery. Actually, my grad school math ed teacher did the same thing in her problem sets, by providing feedback via circling the numbers of the problem we attempted. A full circle meant it was done. Almost full circle meant there was a detail missing, and the circular continuum continued past halfway to no circle for no attempt. It was a vastly positive system that allowed for improvement on skills without the embarrassment of not “getting it” right away.

I said this was half of the story, and reading all of this, I wasn’t sure how to integrate SBG with doing portfolio projects. Ideally, a project shows how concepts and skills are authentically integrated, so extracting that information to put in a grade report that kids understand seemed a difficult undertaking. So, we have it both ways:

Your Math Grade
40% based on projects
40% based on concept checklist
20% based on homework, classwork, participation, &c.

Wait, what happened to my 100% commitment to SBG?  It’s like traditional grading came and took a tax from my conceptual grading bounty.  The projects and checklists should tell me all I need to know.  A kid getting 100% in those two categories deserves the same on her report card—and I would probably give it to her.  But it’s insurance against this imagined exchange:

“So Mister, what happens if we turn in homework late?”

“Well, student, homework doesn’t count for your grade, but you will probably do worse on your concept quiz.”

“Wow, that’s so authentic!  Finally, grades have meaning!” “Oh.” [quickly calculates that without math homework, there will be so much more time to like things on Facebook]

Frankly, it will probably be easier to throw uninformative grades in this category without letting go of some students’ motivation toward getting good grades, i.e. “points.”  When I can demonstrate the effect on classroom learning of the 80% that tells me what they know, I’ll think about moving towards a more radical (read: logical) grading system.

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8 Responses to reading too much about SBG

  1. I Speak Math says:

    Kate has an amazing video that you need to see!
    I too am fascinated by SBG, but just can’t jump in this year with a new school, new level, all new preps! So, I am just sticking my toes in the water! I am going to do the concept lists but not the “whole 9-yards” grading bit. That will be my project for next summer. Hopefully everyone will have even more fantastic blogs and advice for me.

    Good luck with your SBG adventure. I can’t wait to hear more about it!


    • brainopennow says:

      Great video, but Kate is using the numerical recording system that @dy/dan wants to move beyond. If instead of recording numbers, we fill in the bars, that tells students that getting two perfect scores right away is worth the same as getting two perfects have ten tries.

      And thinking about a picky detail, say a student score 5/5 on the first go of a skill. They should fill in all the way to 4, and then diagonally half of 5. A second 5/5 score can fill it in all the way, but subsequent lower scores would not change anything. Perhaps I’ll make nice graphics like the ones I, er, borrowed for this post to illustrate this idea.

  2. Jason Buell says:

    Welcome to blogging. Sam Shah sent me over. I noticed you’re in Chicago. A lot of good bloggers are there too. Check by Jackie Ballarini and by Persida Budjei. They can help you with any assessment questions you might run across plus they know what your local standards are.

    • brainopennow says:

      Thanks! My Chicago days are mainly limited to summer vacation, then it’s back to NYC. But I’m always interested to hear about what’s happening here, since so much of what I hear is so gloomy, and since there are good odds on me returning.

  3. Mythagon says:

    I’ve hacked homework all the way down to 15% and have considered going lower. As awesome as I think SBG is, I am just not confident enough that students will do the practice if they know they are not getting a grade for it (your Facebook comment is exactly what I worry about). On the other hand, I wonder if they would rise to the occasion should I treat them are mature individuals. The reason I am wary is that back when I tried doing homework quizzes instead of collecting daily assignments, a lot of assignments were left unfinished. Though at the time I was not doing any SBG, so that could be the crux of making it work as I know how much buy-in SBG gets me.

    I am thinking about going to more random grading, a la roll a die and if it lands on an even I’ll collect, odd I won’t (unless the student wants me to look at it). Random reenforcement works best when training puppies and children alike (Vegas slots, anyone?). Glad to have found your blog 🙂

    • brainopennow says:

      thanks for the comment! Part of the homework issue is about what I want to concentrate on this year — having engaging and dynamic classes. Homework is not needed for this, even though I agree that doing homework should lead to more learning. My experience is just that most students DON’T DO HOMEWORK, period. There’s a place for it, but since I want to work on the in-class experience this year, I’m not going to spend too much mental work on it at this point.

  4. I’d be wary of the half-implementation that you seem to be spelling out here. I’m having a hard time writing this comment, because I don’t know you or your students, but I do know how SBG works with my kids, and going half way only leads to more points games.

    The sample student exchange that you generated doesn’t happen as much as you’d think. Students will start off trying to not do homework, but most will respond once they realize you’re not kidding about SBG, and that you only care about what they know. They hate homework now, because of how required and boring it is. Requiring it still and making concept check lists only a part of their grade is still reinforcing that there are still magical ways to get grades other than by understanding.

    I’m really sorry if this sounds chastising, that’s totally not my place. I just know from experience that the road you seem to be describing is just as frustrating as the road you want to leave.

    Check this out, and please clarify if I’ve misunderstood something:

    Good luck with SBG, keep writing so we all can get better!

    • brainopennow says:

      There’s some sort of compromise involved with SBG. It seems to me that we want to use quizzes (formal or informal) to quickly assess specific skills. Of course, it makes should make sense to be able to use a homework assignment for the same purpose—that successfully completed problems imply learned content. By not using other data, we might be saying that everything depends on these little assessments. Of course, traditional gradebook maintenance is time consuming, and the way I’ve assigned many grades in the past was at least partially meaningless.

      All rambling aside, maybe the real reason for my planned ‘half-implementation’ is that I’m moving to a new school that is definitely NOT quiz and test oriented, even in math. SBG will be entirely new for my this year, so that 20% of the gradebook that is ‘point-based’ is kind of like keeping something familiar for my new environment. If I find I’m getting the information I need from the other 80%, I’ll be more than happy to ditch the old school.

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