Thursday, December 19, 2013

Unveiling the Half Truths of Standards Based Grading

I'm always perplexed by the nay-sayers of Standards Based Grading. Common outcries against SBG are:

  • SBG does not teach or account for responsibility
  • SBG does not value participation, practice or effort
  • SBG fosters laziness in knowing that redos and retakes are always an option 
While there is a sliver of truth for each of the statements above, they are only half truths at best. When grading is based solely on student understanding of standards then we can unveil the half truths above for the whole truth.

SBG is not about point chasing, it is about knowledge seeking.  When we stop to assess student understanding of content based on clearly defined standards and levels of understanding for those standards then we release points as the driving force for instruction and student learning.  In a traditional classroom points for participation, practice and effort muddy the waters of what students truly know and are able to do with the content.  In an SBG classroom there is no room for mudding the waters of understanding.  That being said participation, practice and effort are highly valued (possibly even more so than in a traditional classroom) as they directly impact student understanding.

Now, does SBG eliminate student point chasing?  No, and really we can't blame them as our educational system has trained them for years using a point chasing mentality.  By the time students reach me in high school most are used to playing the numbers game.  They have become a custom to picking and choosing what they complete for points in order to produce a desired class grade.

So here I am at the end of the semester and low and behold there is a student email in my inbox.  The interchange between this student and myself unveils the half truths of Standards Based Grading. 

Here is how the first email reads...

"Hey mrs stephens, I took the Semester 1 final today and it took my grade down to a C since im so close to a B i wondered if you could round up by any chance. I studied for at least an hour last night and i think i deserve a B." 

My response to the student...

Student's final response...

"okay, i wasn't worried about all of the facts like that. i just figured since you graded the written part by hand you could give me an extra point or so..... I will try to do better next semester, can you seat me away i can get more work done? "

As this student points out, SBG is solely about the facts (for a follow up on this student Click HERE).  While he is still seeking some point chasing, his mind set is on the right track to knowledge seeking as he states he will try harder next semester. He further seeks to have control over his learning environment by requesting to sit elsewhere so that he can focus better. Funny, I don't have assigned seats.  He has had the choice all along. Alas, my work with him is not yet done.  Luckily we have another semester to dampen his point chasing mentality and instill ownership of learning.

For the nay-sayers of SBG, here's the unveiling of those half truths:
  • SBG does teach and account for responsibility of self
  • SBG does value participation, practice and effort in order to increase understanding
  • SBG fosters perseverance in knowing that redos and retakes improves student knowledge in order to demonstrate higher levels of understanding

For more on grading practices check out my post 
"How Transparent Are Your Grading Practices"