I’ve got the standards based philosophy, now what?

When making a shift in grading practices from traditional to a standards based system, step one must be a change in thinking. Reflection upon current practice to see how it aligns to learning is critical. In most cases, traditional grading systems rely on compliance and high stakes assessment to determine the all important letter grade. But what does the letter actually mean? In a nutshell, not much. In a standards based world, grades are communication of academic achievement in relation to the standards. The focus is always on learning. But now what? What if I understand all of this, want to make a change, but don’t know what to do?

1. Separate behaviors from academic achievement. These two elements must be kept independent of one another for grading and reporting to give students and parents accurate information as well as to maintain the integrity of grades. When these two are mashed together, it is unclear how much either one contributes to the grade. Decide what behaviors you will hold your students accountable for throughout a marking period, but don’t combine them with achievement.

2. Identify the standards. Are your standards pre-determined by Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, or the C3 Framework? Are they set by your state? Do you determine them yourself? Once you know your standards, you have clear targets for your stakeholders, assessment, and instruction. Another consideration with standards – you may want to consider rewording them into student friendly language if they are difficult to understand. Clarity is the goal here!

3. Develop ideas and plans for summative assessment. This is simple backward design – begin with the end in mind, and so important for a standards based classroom. From here, you can develop formative practice and instruction for the students. Everything you and your students do must be tied to the standards, so keep that in the forefront of your mind each time you plan.

4. Determine what will be graded vs. given feedback (this goes back to the decision-making process for formative versus summative). In standards based culture, feedback is given much more often than a grade, so be purposeful in this decision. Feedback guides student learning; grades communicate a judgement about proficiency. When you give kids feedback, make sure it is timely, meaningful and actionable – our goal is student learning!

5. (If applicable) Decide upon a method for determining final grades. If you don’t have to do this, consider yourself lucky. If you do have to combine standards and scores for reporting, keep in mind that standards based grades are much more accurate and meaningful by being criterion referenced and evidence based.

6. Revisit the ‘why?’ and prepare for questions. Whenever a change this significant is on the table, there will be questions and/or pushback. If you are going to effectively explain this shift to students and parents, you’ll need to be well versed in the ‘why?’ of standards based grading. I found over the years that it was very helpful to revisit the key ideas. Every time I reviewed the reasons for making the change to standards based grading, it strengthened my convictions and deepened my understanding. I was able to better defend my practices to anyone who questioned me.

There are many more items on the to do list when converting to a standards based system, what else would be on yours?

 

3 thoughts on “I’ve got the standards based philosophy, now what?

  1. Garnet I love this post! I have just started my journey with SBG this past marking period. This post is coming at the perfect time for me as I am reflecting on this last marking period. I personally have been wrestling with number 5, as this seems to be the biggest concerns for parents, students, and getting approval from administration.

    I have been thinking about the other topics, but could not find the words to describe my thinking. This post had provided me with the roadmap that I need to continue to organize my thoughts and begin implementing SBG in my classroom.

  2. Great advice from someone in the trenches. Well done, Garnet! Part of the message that is yet to be written in the second installment of this blog (hint, hint!) is for school leaders to give teachers the freedom to experiment without it hurting students. Action research is part of every academic institution. We only get better when those who are not afraid to fail branch out and try new ideas. Of course, the body of professionals need to hear the results of the action research – that is how all of us learn from their work.

    For school leaders questioning the validity of SBL, I would encourage you to give your faculty a set of 10 scores of various entities (HW, quiz, test, etc) and have your faculty calculate a grade. If you have three or more different calculated values, that begs the question, “Is this fair to all involved?” Finally, we must move away from “grade calculation” and closer to “grade determination.” There is a BIG difference. One involves the use of professional judgment, and we owe it to our students to get it right!

  3. I love your emphasis on mindset first, Garnet. I totally agree that this is where it begins. I think your steps here make a lot of sense. I first reacted wondering whether separating behavior from achievement was the right place to start, but upon reflection, I think you’re right on. This undergirds everything else. Assessment has to be about the learning, not about the behavior. (That’s not to say that students’ behavior doesn’t have an impact on what they learn–showing up in class, and getting actively involved, and doing assigned work, and basically getting along with others is certainly going to help them learn the material! But that isn’t the POINT of the assessment, which is what you’re arguing here too, I think.)

    Great advice for teachers getting started with standards-based assessment! Thanks for sharing your thinking–as always–so clearly and with such heart!

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