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.
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):
- 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 SBGradebook.com 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.
- 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.
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.