Learn to Love Standards-Based Grading in 4 Easy Steps!
Alright, so maybe it’s not that simple. But I love Standards-Based Grading. Love it. However, any time I try to explain to others why I love it, I can never seem to get my point across in a convincing manner. So I’ve done a lot of reflecting on how I came to love it and this post will be an attempt to piece together a timeline of how my beliefs came about. I’ve parsed it into four easy steps. I know there has been a ton written about SBG, but this is just the path that I personally stumbled through, mostly by accident.
Step 1: Visit Dan Meyer’s blog.
I mentioned in my inaugural post that about a year ago I signed up for Twitter, and that’s where it all began. One of the first people I followed was a math educator by the name of Dan Meyer (if you’re into math, I’m sure you’ve heard of him…he’s basically a math rock star). At the time I was simply looking for cool math ideas, and believe me, there are plenty on his blog. Then I stumbled on this post that describes how Dan assessed in his math class. It included a mini-thesis that spelled things out in further detail.
The thing that clicked for me was his example of a gradebook that shows “Chapter 6 Test – 63%.” Sixty-three percent of what? Chapter 6 probably has six, seven, ten different concepts in it; how is the student or the teacher supposed to know exactly where they struggled? Compare that to a gradebook that shows “Operating with Integers – 2/4; Solving Two-Step Equations – 4/4.” Here the student and teacher knows that the student needs help with operating with integers, but dominated solving two-step equations.
Step 2: Visit Shawn Cornally’s blog.
The next thing I came across was Shawn Cornally’s blog, ThinkThankThunk, and in particular this post describing his SBG manifesto. He describes the thrill of having a student approach you with something like “I need to work on writing linear equations” rather than the previously ubiquitous and generic “How can I improve my grade?” I remember the first time this happened to me as a teacher, and he was not exaggerating the thrill.
Step 3: Read up. (You know, like books and stuff).
At about this time I began a master’s course on assessment, so various texts entered the fray (although I continued to devour anything on grading that I could find via Twitter). Some of the books were required and some I sought on my own.
- Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning – Douglas Reeves (ed.) – A compilation of goodness, especially the chapters on using assessments to improve teaching and learning (Guskey), assessment for learning (Stiggins), and tackling the grading dilemma (O’Connor).
- Classroom Assessment & Grading that Work – Marzano – Although I’m not always the biggest Marzano fan, this book lays the foundation for standards-based grading.
- Educational Leadership, November 2011 – Effective Grading Practices – This issue of Ed Leadership is fantastic (and recently back in print after being sold out). I used the articles by Guskey, Wormeli, Marzano, O’Connor, et. al. in nearly every paper I wrote for the class and they gave me a solid base of understanding.
- Elements of Grading: A Guide to Effective Practice – Reeves – This book emphasizes feedback, which is inarguably important to student learning. He spells out how feedback should be accurate, fair, specific, and timely (I still struggle with the timeliness of my feedback – a goal for next year).
There are many more books and articles, but these were the most important for me.
Step 4: Visit Frank Noschese’s blog.
Next I came across a comic that I first saw on Frank Noschese’s blog, Action-Reaction. The comic laid out, in a very simple and understandable way, what is wrong with the way we often give grades. His blog is awesome, by the way, and he has a whole section for Standards-Based Grading.
After all that, I was hooked and things get hazy. Suffice to say there are plenty of other places to get great SBG knowledge dropped on you. I’m actually a little embarrassed that it took me so long to find Matt Townsley’s blog, which is extremely comprehensive and pre-dates many others. It’s my go-to now, and the first place I would start if I were to do it all over. Actually, maybe not, because I like the path I took.