Why I’m Moving Away From Standards Based Grading

Some background:

I teach 8th grade. I started last year with a pretty conventional grading system. I graded homework for completion and exit slips, and gave quizzes and tests. Halfway through the year, I started dividing tests up into standards-based quizzes, spending less time on them, offering retakes, and increasing their importance relative to the rest of my gradebook. Much more of students’ grades were based on what they knew, and and they got feedback based on the specific areas they needed to improve.

I really like the principles of standards based grading. I want to give students effective feedback that offers them opportunities for improvement and teaches a growth mindset. But, within my school, with my students, I’m not sure that’s what’s best for their learning.

I also really believe in grading for effort.

I teach a lot of students who have learning gaps, for various reasons. If my grading was purely standards-based, and I was honest about the standards, lots of students would be likely to fail. I think that, at least in middle school, learning should be measured by a product: mastery x effort. Students who know a lot but don’t try hard — they’re hurting themselves, but in the short term, they’ll do alright. Students who don’t know much but always try hard deserve a bump because they’re on their way — they don’t have to make it this year, as long as they keep working hard and learning.

Second, and I wish this wasn’t the case, but 8th graders need frequent reminders to pay attention, put effort into class, and complete work I put in front of them. At my school, at least, grades are an effective motivator. It’s not ideal, but it works, and it’s consistent with my colleagues.

What I’m doing this year:

Homework is graded for completion. Assignments are short, consist of mixed practice on key topics from the whole year, and rarely ask questions about what was learned that day. It’s all effort. Turn it in, and you get credit. Turn it in late, I will still give you credit. You do the practice, you’ll be better for it, you get the credit.

Exit slips are graded for accuracy, several times a week. This is to see how much students are learning, and to underscore the importance of paying attention that day.

I have a classwork category that’s a bit of a catchall. I don’t grade classwork often; two things go in here. Students have a notes packet for each unit — really just a bunch of boxes with some number lines and coordinate planes sequenced to topics we cover. Typical day involves exploring a new topic, capturing a key understanding in the notes packet, then applying that concept in some new ways, analyzing, and practicing. Second, I sometimes grade the products from 3-act math and other tasks because it’s an important part of what I hope students take away from my class.

Quizzes are given almost weekly. Quizzes cover a specific standard. There’s at least a day between when we finish learning material on a quiz and when it is quizzed, and a warm-up that reviews that material and allows time for questions. Quizzes see what students know, and I don’t allow makeups. They are a relatively small part of students’ grades.

Tests are given once every few weeks, and vary in length. Tests are broken into sections based on standards. There are at least two days between when we finish a unit and test, and those days begin with a warm-up review topic. Students get test grades broken down by standard, and are allowed to retake a section of the test (different version) in order to improve their score.

Is this standards-based grading?

I feel like I’m moving away from what I think of as SBG. I am trying to stay faithful to the principles of multiple opportunities for mastery and giving students feedback based on learning targets, but I also really believe in grading student work regularly and giving it back to them.

My other project this year is to find some new ways to give feedback. 

Dylan Wiliam has pretty well convinced me that feedback that is attached to a grade does not help learning. Michael Pershan has given me a ton of ideas about how to give better feedback. I believe that, within my school, I need to continue to grade and return a lot of work; my goal is to choose some work that students produce, not grade it, give feedback, and provide structured time for them to respond to it. That’s a post for another day.


One thought on “Why I’m Moving Away From Standards Based Grading

  1. gfletchy

    Absolutely agree! Learning can’t be a one and done.
    Why are ELA students given multiple opportunities to produce a final product? Rough draft, 1st draft, 2nd draft, peer edit, final draft, published copy! In math we only get one go around?!?!?
    Feedback embraces the growth mindset and the Austin’s Butterfly that Jenise talks about. She’s a elementary teacher now in middle school dealing with the same issues. Well worth the visit. http://jenisesexton.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/bringing-your-best-to-the-table/


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