SBG: An epiphany

July 4, 2010 6 Comments »
SBG: An epiphany

So I’ll be the first to admit that because of my wide variety of classes taught, my marking has been somewhat schizophrenic.  I don’t generally mark the same way in CPT as I do in History, French or Science, and each class lends itself to specific ways of gathering marks.  Readers will note that I haven’t been in favour of the kind of marking that doesn’t penalize students for tardy or non-submitted assignments.  Recently, in reading up on standards-based grading, I came to the realization that the reason I’m so opposed to the idea is that no one has been able to clearly articulate to me the rationale behind that kind of marking – not the books I’ve read, not the workshops I’ve attended, and not the presentations in my school.

However, I came across not long ago the website of Shawn Cornally, Think Thank Thunk (thank-you, PLN).  He manages to clearly and concisely explain the why and, especially helpfully, the hows of standards-based grading.  As it turns out, I’m doing some of this already, but not to the right degree and not in the right way.  So.  I look at the final I give in my History class, which is three questions long, taken from the provincial curriculum, and right up to here on Bloom’s Taxonomy, in order to really get at what students understand about the semester’s work – yay me.  However, the mark still shows up as “Final Exam” in my gradebook (argh – hate you, Maplewood), which is the wrong way to go about it.  According to Mr. Cornally, I should be splitting the final into multiple marks in my gradebook (blergh, Maplewood) that show precisely which standard is being assessed and how the student did on that.  Okay, that’s remarkably easy to do, and as a bonus, it will actually be easy to align the rest of my History assignments with this style of marking, instead of slopping them into categories based on what kind of assessment they are.  Hooray.

Not so fast, says my CPT class.  That’s all well and good for content standards, which are History’s bread and butter, but what do you do for a skills-based class, where the assessments are designed for the student to show progress in a wide variety of skills before the end of the term.  Surprisingly, also easy to convert over.  As it turns out, we already have a CPT Shared Technical Skills Rubric that we use to evaluate all the CPT students in their projects.  According to SBG, instead of aggregating and averaging those project marks, we simply leave each row of the rubric (which each describe a skill the students are working on) separate and put those in the gradebook (blech, Maplewood) instead of one mark for the project.  Unfortunately, I won’t be putting this into practice, as I have no CPT classes on my schedule for next year.  Topic for another post, perhaps.

Sequences and series by JOCELYN, yo.

The Science curriculum will probably be the most difficult to convert over to SBG, as it has a wild and woolly mix of content- and skills-based standards, and boy are there a lot of them (4 units, 5 main learning objectives/unit, and between 4 and 12 components to each learning objective… say 150 objectives — yikes).  Still, using the mechanisms described in Mr. Cornally’s SBG description, I suppose it’s possible.  I think the easiest path is to take the main learning objectives as the standards, and use the components as assessments towards mastery of the standard, which will have the added benefit of making it explicit in the gradebook (boo, Maplewood) what the assessment is for.  Hooray!

My other class is a Core French class, which again has a mix of skills and content standards, but should be transferable using the same sort of setup as for the science class.  Hopefully.

There are two things I need to make this work (well, probably more, but these are the two that immediately leaped to mind):

  1. A markbook that will work with standards-based grading.  Obviously, that’s not going to be Maplewood.  As you may have gathered from my veiled comments, I’m not the program’s biggest fan.  I get that it does a lot of things (attendance, gradebook, timetables, etc), but that just means it doesn’t do any of them particularly well.  Fortunately, the aforementioned Mr. Cornally has a solution for that as well, in his hand-coded site.  I’m in the summer beta, so I’m going to try it out with some faked-up student data to see how well it works.  If it does the trick, Maplewood will become a secondary reporting tool where I will put just the midterm and final grades of the students, with all the heavy lifting done by the SBGradebook site.
  2. Secondly, I need permission from my admin to fail a student if he or she does not pass one of the standards to the proficiency described in the rubric.  Normally a student would be able to simply do extra work and collect more points to pass, but under SBG, they have to show increased understanding in order to improve their mark.  The math teachers at my school are already doing this, so as long as I clear it with admin ahead of time, I should be good – they seem willing to work with the SBG framework, provided teachers give students every opportunity to demonstrate increased understanding.

Classroom by humdrumboy

I think the most obvious way this will change my classroom is that students will (hopefully) be less focused on what’s getting marked and more on whether they “get” the material, which is what I’ve been flailing blindly towards in my History class, at least.  I honestly couldn’t care less what numerical mark my students get in my class, as long as they are able to grasp and maintain the course material, a goal which should be helped immensely by using SBG.

I’m a little concerned that my higher-end students will not be happy with the system, as it will make it harder for them to excel simply by handing everything in, but those concerns are outweighed by my desire to have meaningful marks that better represent student learning.

So, consider me converted. I will be using SBG in all my classes come the fall.  This is not to say that I won’t be assigning any homework (here’s looking at you, TDSB), but that it will have a different purpose than simply existing so students can collect marks.  All the things marked in my class will now have to mean something, a change I am happy to make.

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  1. Jason Van Otterloo August 1, 2010 at 11:40 pm -

    Please post how you feel about the trial you do over the summer. I’m very interested in addressing the same problems with grading that you are mentioning. Teaching Drama, Theatre Arts, History and some English have led to very frustrating marking sessions. I likewise hate the no penalty for late assignments.

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  3. Sherig March 24, 2011 at 11:34 am -

    Getting across to teachers why SBG is important is a hard sell sometimes, and reading your earlier posts up to this one is exactly why. Every teacher is emmersed in doing their best, but they are up to their necks in their own situation, which is different from the one the presenter is describing that this new way will work with. Kudos to you for trying something new. I can’t wait to go peek at the Think Thank Thunk website you mention above.

    Here’s two additional comments:
    1.) You can’t fail a kid if they don’t meet one outcome. The idea is making the assignments mean something, having students take responsiblilty for their marks, and truly understanding that they don’t get it when in fact they don’t get it. Making them do something about in fact obtaining that knowledge. You failing them takes that responsiblity out of their hands. My take on it is this: “You kid are what 15 years old? These 18 outcomes are complete, these 2 are not, you have to learn this one and improve this one before I can submit your mark.” Then we push and prod and hound and do what we as teachers do to encourage the kid to step up and hand in or provide some differentiated proof of knowledge so we can submit a mark on the rubric that doesn’t reflect apathy or lack of knowledge. I’d like to see more incompletes on transcripts than failing grades. If I’m 15 years old, a fail could be my fault, but in more actuality I’m going to blame that sucker on the teacher. An imcomplete is not really transferable. That’s all on the learner.
    2.) Didn’t think I’d ever get to point number two? Sorry…don’t usually have time for my soapbox. What do teachers need from software (obviously not Maplewood according to you) that would facilitate SBG at the high school level? Outcome based entry, gradebook in rubric marks? Yes, no? What else? I’ve got a trial going K-8 and need to develop for 9-12…

  4. Ian Hecht March 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm -

    I mostly agree with you about #1, but I’m not sure the ministry allows submitting an incomplete to the transcript.

    W/r/t software, I like what the Carlton math dept has done with their excel spreadsheets, but it needs to be more customizable – right now, unless you know what you’re doing, you can’t add more than three assignments to any outcome, and you can’t add outcomes. I tried out Shawn’s, but it requires the use of a modern browser, and everything other than IE is blocked from within the division. He’s also discontinued it in favour of ( but as far as I can tell, there’s only demo accounts available.

    Basically, I need way more flexibility. I need to be able to mark out of 4 without having the 3 on 4 convert to 75%. I need to be able to make it use mean or mode instead of average, and I need to be able to individualize assignments.

  5. Ian Hecht March 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm -

    I should clarify that last comment. What I’m agreeing with with respect to your #1 is the idea of putting an incomplete on a report card instead of an “F”. I do, however, think that one missed objective is enough to put that there.

    If we truly believe that the 12 or 15 or 20 objectives in the curriculum guide are what are essential for all kids in the class to know/understand/do, then there is no compelling reason to allow a student who has been given every opportunity to successfully complete each objective, but who has been unable to demonstrate the objective at an “Independent” level – there’s no compelling reason why I should allow that student to leave the course. In fact, if we have decided that the objectives are essential knowledge/skills/understandings, then I would be doing that student a disservice to let him pass without having demonstrated all objectives.

    Now, I’m not arguing that the student should have to retake the entire course to complete one or two missed objectives, but he should not be able to move on to the next highest level without completing all of the objectives in some form or other.

  6. Lindsay Kyliuk February 13, 2012 at 11:01 am -

    For those of you looking for a markbook to hand SBG, Easy Grade Pro is a fantastic piece of software. Its been around for at least a decade, its very intuitive and user friendly, and cheap. I highly recommend it.