So...My SBG...

I had mentioned in the last long-form post that I was going to delve more in to my shiny, new, Standards-Based Grading (SBG) policy in future postings, and it appears that time has come.  For this post, I’ll focus on what the actual policy looks like in terms of how student’s grades are determined.  We’ll be back here many times this year, so all the other things worth talking about will get discussed, I promise.

For those of you who don’t hang on my every word (in other words, those of you who aren’t my parents), I have been successful in convincing the other two Honors Chemistry teachers that it might be a good use of our time this year to try an SBG model for at least part of the grade determinations of our students.  They seem to have enough faith in my good judgement to come along for the ride (suckers!)

Anyone who isn’t wonky on pedagogy should probably pause right now and go google themselves up some SBG background info.  Try here for a relatively enjoyable introduction to the concept (a concept that is really nothing new).  If you want to skip all of that pesky educating yourself, feel free to just keep reading.

Here’s our new Honors Chemistry policy:

  • 50% of a students quarterly average will be determined using an SBG approach.  This includes all work done in class that is not an exam (more on that bit later) or the Supernintendo-mandated 10% class participation grade.  All quizzes, classwork, projects, and labs.
  • Rather than grade the work, the work will be assessed according to how well students are demonstrating proficiency on a series of communally-established course standards (viewable here as they evolve, thanks to the magic of Google Docs).
  • For most standards, the scale runs from 1-4, with 4 indicating advanced-level master, 3 indicating proficiency (what the competent Honors Chemistry student needs to be able to do), and 2, 1, and the sad, sad 0 moving further and further away from proficiency.  Some standards, including all lab standards are on a 1-3 scale, as we feel there is no major need to have an advanced standard for laboratory skills.
  • Every Friday, students are assessed by us using a series of standards-aligned assessments in a “quiz” format.  This is the major mode of assessment for content that comes from instructors that is placed into the gradebook.
  • Homework is never assessed for the purpose of grading, though it is reviewed with students in both whole-group and small-group settings, collected on certain days so as to offer feedback, and generally of a level of enough importance for student progress that it is almost always done by students even though it’s not “worth” anything to their grades.
  • Students are able to request reassessment for standards as they wish, though scores on reassessment are not guaranteed to be better, and most likely won’t be unless students put in some work on learning the things that they did not know the first time.
  • All SBG scores are tallied in an online gradebook that students and their parents can access as per their desires.
  • At the end of the quarter, students will conference with the instructor to review their progress towards proficiency on standards and determine what amount of the 50% of their quarter average determined through the SBG approach they should receive.
  • Exams comprise 40% of a students quarter grade, and consist of two summative exams given at mid- and end- quarter.  Exam performance is determined via traditional percentage calculation, and can not be reassessed in the fashion 

That’s where it’s at.  I don’t presume to suggest that it is a perfect system, or even a “great” system, but I do think it goes a lot farther to making students think about their progress, and how they are doing on specific chemistry learning objectives, than the old mode of rotely cranking out almost completely meaningless percentages and pulling numbers out of a teacher’s bag of tricks.  

One thing that should be obvious is that our system is a hybrid system, with a lot more emphasis on summative, traditional exams, then many SBG proponents would probably dig.  I don’t really care about them.  What I do care about is developing a system that begins to move me away from grading practices that I think are stupid, and that obeys the command of Boss, who told me that I was welcome to move to an SBG system as long as I could get all three Honors Chem. teachers to come along for the ride using the same system (one of the unfortunate pleasures of teaching in the age of the new APPR-either we all do it, or no one does), and my colleagues are not necessarily as comfortable throwing all exams out the window as I might be if I was off in my own little world.  On another note, keeping exams in so big for at least this year provides a good comparison point to see just how congruent the new mode is with the old mode.  It’s a way to stay tethered to the past, while thinking about how to do things differently.  To use a piece of jargon, it gives me quasi-objective information for “data-driven instructional choices” (whatever the fuck that means).  And if I have learned one thing in this career, it’s the incredible power that comes from being able to take the language of the system that is so frequently used to destroy good teaching practice and turn it back on itself.  If you can do that effectively, you can do anything in your classroom that your heart desires, and no one will ever say beep.

Let’s see where this road leads…