Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Two Conversations that Emphasized the Need for Standards-Based Grading

This past week I overheard two conversations that reminded me of the need for standards-based grading.

Conversation 1: in produce section of grocery store between a parent and a middle school teacher who I’ll call Mr. Smith

Parent: Good to see you Mr. Smith. How’s Jon [another pseudonym] doing?
Mr. Smith: Jon’s one of my best students. His test scores are always among the best in the class. I think he had the highest score on the last test.
Parent: That’s great! He really enjoys your class.
Mr. Smith: Thanks. He's a pleasure to teach. 

What's wrong with this conversation?
Simply, why is the teacher comparing Jon’s performance against other students? Assessments and grades should be used to provide meaningful feedback in relation to learning objectives. Grades should never be used to rank and sort students. I'm sure the teacher meant well and the parent was clearly pleased with this impromptu progress report, but does the parent truly know How's my child doing?

Conversation 2: overheard at a basketball game

Parent: Did you get your test back?
Middle school student: (Sheepishly) Yes.
(Parent tilts her head and gives her daughter “the eye.”)
Student: I got a 60. But everyone did badly.
(Long pause as parent simply stares through the child.)
Student (with cautionary optimism): She gave us an extra credit assignment to pull up our grade.
Parent: Get it out and start working on it.

What's wrong with this conversation?
I applaud the teacher for recognizing that the entire class struggled on the test (assuming the student didn’t make it up). But instead of assigning an extra credit assignment to raise students’ grades, the teacher should be reflecting on her own professional practices to ensure improved achievement. This should include re-teaching and re-assessment.

While some extra credit assignments do equate to increased learning or mastery of the objective, most extra credit assignments dilute the meaning of grades. For example, in this case, it sounds as if the student simply needs to complete additional work to raise her grade; meaning the quantity of work becomes more important than the quality of the understanding.

If, as the student stated, most students did poorly, it’s not a learning problem. It’s a teaching problem that requires corrective action.

Four Standards-Based Grading Principles Relevant to These Conversations
  1. Grades should focus on results rather than activities. Emphasis should be on learning and not competition and completion.
  2. Assessments provide information for students AND teacher.
  3. If a particular concept or skill is worth assessing then it’s important enough to teach and teach well.
  4. Teachers should follow assessments with high-quality corrective actions and students should be given additional opportunities to demonstrate mastery.


David Hochheiser said...

Great idea, posting real scenarios. Too easy to forget how grades and other practices play out outside of the classroom. Would've liked to see #1 say "Great, his ______ is much better than the last time he did _______. He really seems to be understanding ____________ now." #2..."Everyone is still really struggling in class. The teacher said that today, after seeing how we did on the test, that we're going to go back and re-learn a bunch of things, using a new project he's putting together to help us."

Anonymous said...

Hey Reed, I like the setup of your blog. Concrete way to get your message out to the masses. Do you practice SBG? How do you keep track of standard mastery? What strategies do you use to provide timely feedback?

Karen L. Mahon, Ed.D. said...

Hi Reed- It would be difficult to overestimate how much I like this post. Criterion-referenced scoring is so key for communicating the actual performance of learners…it's always shocking to me that anyone uses norm-referenced anymore. And, as a big fan of formative assessment, I couldn't agree more with your second scenario. I would love to see teachers feel more empowered to take a truly functional approach to their students' progress: what are we trying to accomplish, how close are we to getting there, and what else do we need to do to reach mastery? Thanks!