16 June 2008

Standards-based Grading: Walking the Talk

One of my goals this year was to implement standards-based grading practices. I won't claim that it was always simple, but I have to admit that it wasn't that big of a shift, either. The biggest changes have to occur in your philosophy. Once you've made peace with the fact that you're not going to use grades as rewards and punishments or reflections of student behavior, other things fall into place. Yes, I did have to bite my tongue several times this year. How often in the past have I taken points off a grade because students didn't clean up a lab station? Or were noisy after finishing a test (while others were still working)? How many times have I exasperatedly explained to a dejected kid that even though they got half credit for their late work, it only raised their average a couple of points? Embarrassingly enough---I've done this a lot in the past. But not this year. A few incidences near the end of the year have served as interesting cases-in-point about my changes to grading practices.

For example, I had a student who missed a lot of class not that long ago. It turned out that he was skipping school and by the time all that caught up to him, well, he had been gone a lot of days. He served a week of in-school suspension for his truancies. Five of his teachers told his parents that there was no way he could pass their classes---all those zeros in their gradebooks couldn't be made up due to unexcused absences. It is their right to have such a policy, but I didn't follow suit. The kid made some bad choices, to be sure. But he had a school applied punishment for that. Why should I kick him with a grade, too? I can't imagine having to come to school for the last month knowing that nothing you would do would matter...that because of something stupid, others were going to make a mess of your transcript and condemn you to summer school for summers to come. Now, it remains to be seen whether or not he will pass my class. He is still missing several assessments, but he has the choice to show me that he has learned the material. It is definitely one of those "lead a horse to water" sorts of deals; however, in the event that an "F" shows up on his report card for my class, it won't be because I destined him to fail. I sleep a lot better that way.

School has been out for seniors for several days, but I have one who is still coming to class. He didn't graduate, due to missing credit for my class and another one. Here again, the other teacher said that no matter what the kid did, he couldn't get credit. I told mom that if he could show me that he'd learned the material before school was out, he didn't need to do summer school (or come back for a year of super-senior work) for science. As with the first case, it is the kid's choice as to what to do...and interestingly enough, he is choosing to get out of bed and come to school for one class while most of his peers are still in bed.

I also have a young lady who plagiarized all the text for a project. She is smart enough to know better and we (as a class) had talked about my expectations for their performance and disapproval of copying the work of another. I know that in college or the workplace, she would be booted out for her poor efforts...but this is not college nor a workplace. My job is to get them ready for those environments. So, I talked to her about what she'd done and why it wasn't acceptable---either for my class or elsewhere. I didn't give her a zero or send her to the office. I did make sure that she understood what her responsibilities were and gave her an "incomplete" in the gradebook until things are properly done. I hope that I've helped her reflect on things and learn a lesson she can apply to future assignments. The result is the same as the more negative approach of giving her a zero and telling her "too bad," it's just that in my newer approach, I haven't excused her from doing the learning. She still has to do the project...and do it right.

There are still some things I need to work out with this grading system. Communication with all stakeholders is a continuing challenge because it is a different way of approaching grades. I think, however, that I finally have a system which is congruent with my beliefs as an educator: what happens in the classroom is about students and their learning.

Update: If you've reached this post from a search engine, you can access all standards-based grading information for this blog (and there's quite a bit) by clicking on the grading label. It's greatly appreciated if you would leave a comment as you look around! Also, I am available for presentations and workshops if you need more resources and information on best practices in grading. Contact me for more information.


Anonymous said...

Wow! I think you were a very strong person to give that child another chance, it is inspiring and just WOW!

Anonymous said...

I am really impressed -- it's great to see someone who has not lost sight of the principle idea that the true purpose of education is for the student to master the material (as opposed to punishing people for having problems).

After all, we want our students to learn and improve from their choices and experiences, not just be faced with the consequences of them. After all, there are plenty of other people in the school (and other social) systems who will lose no opportunity to tell the students how they have failed to do this or that.

It is a thoughtful line between enabling a students' success and enabling misbehaviour, and it sounds like you are doing a great job of it. I'm sure this will also spill over into the way you deal with other staff members as well (we could stand to have more principals with your perspective, so keep that in mind down the road).



loonyhiker said...

I think this is a great system and agree with you totally because I had a system like yours. Too many of my students felt like they had failed anyway so why bother trying. They were so quick to put the blame on the teacher instead of taking responsibility for their actions and you are putting the ball back in their court. I would tell my students that taking a zero is not an option because that is too easy for them and they don't learn anything. By giving an incomplete and insisting that they do the work makes them accountable and it show the student that you refuse to give up on them. Thanks for sharing this.

The Science Goddess said...

I still have several ways to grow in this area, but from the comments, it would appear that I'm moving in the right direction.

I don't know if others will follow; however, I'll keep doing what I can for kids.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Please pardon my tardy comment, SG.

You've amped up the responsibility level for teachers in a standards-based system. You've stuck you neck out, experimented, and found validation for SBG, i.e., it's good for kids.

What chokes me the most these days is administrators and politicians trying to fix or reform the system prior to getting this basic building block in place.

How the hell can you improve a system that's broken to begin with.

Anyhow, keep on keeping on. You're one of my role models! :)

Michelle said...

I'm so happy that I stumbled across this blog as I was searching for info on standards-based grading. I became a science teacher after a career change from research (this is my 3rd year)and have struggled with the old way of things. After encountering several students who know the material but just can't be bothered to do the assignments, I knew I had to come up with another way of assessing them. I'm looking forward to perusing your site for information as I do an overhaul of my curriculum this summer.