Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 1

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Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 1

This post is the first in a series about my journey with Standards Based Learning and Grading.  

My journey of positive deviance

Positive deviance…the way I see it, I will do anything to help my students learn.  I don’t care whether it will make me popular or well liked among my peers.  I am driven, passionate about education, and willing to work as hard as possible to reach every student.  I want to create passionate lifelong learners.
That being said, at times I am not the most popular in the building.  I am seen as the one who is always pushing the barrier, always innovating my instructional practices.  I have been told to my face several times, “Oh, well, that works in your classroom, but it could never work in mine.”  How do you know unless you try?  I understand that no two teacher’s classrooms will or should look exactly the same.  But to keep with old methods just because that is the way it has always been done or because it is the way you were taught is a ridiculous notion.  Times change, people evolve, research continues, learning happens, and we cannot in good faith sit idle and expect our profession to stagnate.  If we stagnate, our kids stagnate.  If we don’t work to improve and learn ourselves, what kind of example are we setting for our kids?  We must be the lead learners in our environments.  We must model what we expect and lead our students to seek knowledge.
Standards based learning and grading were an easy fit for me.  I needed to be learner focused.  I wanted a system that clearly communicated proficiency and mastery levels to my students and parents.  I desired to be criterion referenced rather than norm referenced.  As good of a fit as standards based learning and grading are for me, they are still finding their way into my school and district.  It is a tough road to be one of only a few charting this course, but it is well worth it to see the positive change in my students.  The culture of learning that is present in my classroom is a testament to the value of standards based learning, assessment, and grading.  My students are performing at higher levels and are more engaged in the learning process than ever before.
At the beginning of my teaching career, I was a traditional grader.  I had been taught in my undergraduate work and throughout student teaching how to assign points to assignments and assessments, grade behaviors like participation, and was encouraged to have a ‘no tolerance’ approach to late work.  I followed these practices and maintained the status quo in the educational world.  My students learned information, but did they excel?  No, they maintained the status quo as well in an system based on one size fits all standardized instruction and assessment.  Every student was supposed to be treated exactly the same in order to be fair.
After 10 years of teaching, I needed a paradigm shift.  I had finally recognized that my students were individuals and had very different needs in the classroom.  Being fair to my students meant that I not only needed to understand them as learners and people, but also that they required a variety of instructional methods, assessments, and practice.  I reflected, studied, read, and evaluated my methods.  I began to differentiate my instruction and felt like my students were changing along with me.  Relationships were formed, trust was established, and a learning environment conducive to growth was created. 

Once I had successfully implemented differentiated instruction, I still felt like I was missing something.  I started to reflect on my assessment and grading practices.  Why was I still demanding points, due dates, and compliant behaviors in my grading policies?  Back to researching, planning, and implementing new strategies all over again.  Now standards based learning, assessment, and grading drives my classroom experience and my students excel.  Students go above and beyond my expectations on a daily basis.  They are learners first and foremost.  They seek knowledge, understanding, and new skills over points, scores, and grades.

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  1. Candice Sylvester February 2, 2014 at 10:09 AM - Reply

    I am curious as to how many subjects you teach and the number of standards you are assessing quarterly. As a 3rd grade teacher, Standards Based Grading has proved to be difficult with assessing 23+ standards over 6 or 7 subjects every quarter. Seeing as I am a relatively new teacher my teaching methods have always been hands on, engaging, collaborative, and student driven: thats how I was taught to teach. 🙂 Although I am a fan of not having to put a percentage on every single assignment, this transition has been a tough road to travel down for this 3rd grade teacher.

  2. Dave Mulder January 13, 2014 at 9:27 AM - Reply

    Garnet, you speak so much truth here! Our journeys with SBL and SBG parallel–I know what you mean about not being popular with your colleagues all too well. I’m glad to hear that you don’t get discouraged about this, and I love your emphasis on modeling life-long learning for your students. I’ve often said that if the teacher stops learning, it’s time to leave the profession. Blessings to you in your work, and keep sharing your stories!

  3. Sra. Spanglish December 31, 2013 at 1:43 AM - Reply

    “But to keep with old methods just because that is the way it has always been done or because it is the way you were taught is a ridiculous notion…we cannot in good faith sit idle and expect our profession to stagnate.”

    This happens when comfort and fear of the unknown trump student progress. A mentor teacher once tried to get me to try a different way, and I said, “But they won’t LEARN that way!” She replied, “Are they learning this way?” That question haunts me daily now.

    I LOVE how you reevaluate what you’re doing when something’s not going right, because in the end, we only have control over our side, right?

  4. Sheila Soule November 20, 2013 at 1:39 PM - Reply

    I would be really interested to hear more specifics on how you changed your grading practices- I personally think this change would truly transform education. The current grading practices I see in most schools and classrooms is what keeps us glued to the past. Unless and until we change this we will change nothing at all.

  5. TMCSmath November 16, 2013 at 10:05 AM - Reply

    My path has been similar to yours, but I am still waiting on my students to make that shift to learning over grades…feel like I am missing something. Does it just take time?

    • Garnet Hillman November 19, 2013 at 6:39 AM - Reply

      It does take time…I teach 9th graders. They have spent their elementary years in very traditional settings, and it takes a lot of work to shift their thinking. I work at it all year long! Thanks for reading and your comments.

    • LMS November 20, 2013 at 8:11 AM - Reply

      Give them specific feedback on goals re skills, knowledge, raise the academic bar, connect with your learners. One of the best indicators of authentic learners is the trust that you will make a difference in their success. Give them the tools and big ideas. Assessment for Learning is a good way to start. Try Anne Davies and Sandra Herbst to get started.

  6. Ms. Young November 16, 2013 at 8:08 AM - Reply

    Garnet, I happened to come across your blog from Twitter’s #sbg and found it to be very inspirational. I work at the middle school level, and have been working hard to be more innovative with my students this year, although I must admit have not implemented SBG 100%, but that is my goal by 3rd quarter. Thank you for sharing.

    • Garnet Hillman November 19, 2013 at 6:38 AM - Reply

      Thanks so much! Good luck with your implementation, it will be worth all the work!

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