Tag Archives: feedback

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?


What’s the right way?

As I travel and work with educators across the country to improve grading practices, I have noticed a common theme. Teachers seem to be searching for the one right way to implement standards based grading. They don’t want to do something ‘wrong’ when making the transition.

The truth? There isn’t one right way. From my perspective and experience (and humble opinion), there are several non-negotiables when switching to standards based grading, but implementation is owned by the district, school, administration, and teachers. This is a process, full of baby steps. There will be successes and failures. It is a learning process that requires a paradigm shift – a shift that is easier for some than others. My consistent advice to teachers and schools is to take it slowly, talk about the non-negotiables often, and develop an implementation plan that works for your schools, students, and teachers.

Here are items that would go on my non-negotiable list:

  • Criterion referencing – Kids must be measured against standards, not against each other.
  • Staying away from averages – No penalizing kids for where they start with a standard, only report where they finish.
  • Grading less and giving more feedback – Formative assessment should include feedback only, no grades…clearly puts the focus is on learning.
  • Separating academic achievement from process (behaviors) and growth – Accurate meaningful grading practices are the goal. If these are not separated, the grading waters are muddied.
  • Shortening the scale – Reducing the number of levels of proficiency has positive effects. Inter-rater reliability increases, students are better able to self-assess, and grading becomes less subjective. (But remember…subjectivity in grading can never be completely eliminated).

Once these key components are established, teachers and districts can move on to other decisions. Standards can be developed or chosen for assessment. Teachers can discuss what evidence elicits proficiency levels for each standard. Teachers can collaborate to design formative and summative assessment strategies and tools. Reporting features can be explored to best communicate with students and parents.

What’s the silver bullet of standards based grading? It really comes down to developing practices and a mentality about grading that support learning. Utilize practices that honor the natural learning process and allow kids to demonstrate their learning in a safe environment. Beyond this, the ball is in the court of the stakeholders within the school district. When students own their learning, they engage on an entirely new level, right? Ownership of learning isn’t just for students, it is for all learners. Let’s not search for the holy grail of standards based grading; let’s find what works for us and move forward.

Feedback – the essential component of learning

It gets said over and over again – kids need meaningful feedback in order to learn. I believe this to my core as an educator. It is essential to learning and a non-threatening way to guide students to improve. Feedback is not high stakes, it is simply a part of the journey to check on progress and guide next steps.

Students appreciate feedback because it communicates so much more than a number or a letter. It is a call to action rather than something that signifies an end to learning. When kids are given specific descriptive feedback, they are motivated by the challenge to grow. No student is lumped into a letter grade category or label…everyone is on the road to success.

As teachers, I believe we want this same type of feedback. I definitely do not want to be assigned a number or letter to guide my progress and development as an instructor. I frequently talk with my students about their learning experiences, what I can do to best serve their needs, as well as how I can improve. If I am to model the behaviors that I seek, growth and change are indispensable for me. I gather additional feedback from observers in my room, whether they be administrators or colleagues. Varied points of view are the best way to chart the course forward with my kids.

One of the reflective activities we completed this year happened when we returned from winter break. I had my students give adjectives that they expected from me in order to improve their learning. I was most surprised when one student asked me for honesty. It is not that I wouldn’t be honest with my students at all times, but he went on to explain. He wanted honesty in feedback. He said that I was one of the only teachers in his experience who ‘told it like it was’. He knew exactly what needed improvement and areas of strength in his work. Sometimes I don’t think educators believe that kids want to know the truth. We sugar coat things to make sure we aren’t hurting anyone’s feelings or inviting a difficult conversation. This was such a great example of how less than accurate or nondescript feedback can be detrimental to our students. I also knew at that moment that we had created a safe environment with a growth mindset.

I am frequently asked how I have enough time to provide feedback to my students. I have a couple of thoughts on this. First of all, I have taken back the time I used to spend calculating points, categories, and weights for countless formative practice grades. This was wasted time for me that is currently spent in a very productive manner. My other consideration is this: If feedback is the most important piece we give our students for their learning, how can I not find the time to do it? Don’t worry, I am human too. I am a wife and mother to a couple of wonderful boys. I drive to soccer practice, help with homework, and put dinner on the table. I do not spend every waking hour of my life giving feedback, but I have found that the time I devote to school now is more worthwhile and rewarding.