23 November 2008

Peeking Around the Corner

So, I did my presentation at the NSTA conference yesterday. Truth be told, I was a bit bummed about things leading up to this. I knew I had the last time slot on the last day of the convention. Even if it's been a few years since I've gone to one of these events, I remember getting "Conference Fatigue" all too well. By the last day, you're ready to just go home. Meanwhile, I also discovered that my presentation was scheduled way off-site from the conference. Anybody who wanted to sit in was going to have to schlep their way over from the comfort and convenience of the main convention. So, I made 25 handouts, but figured that 10 people sitting in would be a worthy turnout.

That isn't what happened, however.

Instead, I had well over 100 people crammed into the room---sitting in the aisles, up at the presentation table and standing in the doorway straining to listen. I'm not sure how many others turned away when they saw the throng...and I know the fire marshal wasn't poking around because the number of people was well over the posted room occupancy. Wowser.

The experience was very validating---not so much for me personally as for the topic itself. Grading has arrived. When I talked to a few of the attendees about their "hardcore" attitude of staying to the end, they said that this was an area of need for them and I was the only one on the schedule talking about it. Others who chose to stay after the presentation to talk to me mentioned that they were trying to do some of these things at their schools---but it was a lonesome experience. It is indeed hard to implement something like this on your own. I got asked about presenting at other schools. Would I come? Would I talk to more than just science teachers? Would I answer the phone/e-mail if there were questions? Of course. But how sad is that people are all out there struggling on their own little islands of grading.

I had a friend mention earlier in the week that leaders should always be up ahead, peeking around the corner. From my experiences yesterday, I got a good look around the corner at two things in particular. First of all, grading practices are about to reach the tipping point in secondary schools. I expect a lot of growing pains. Secondly, the role of data visualization in all of this is going to play a major role. Every time I pull out microcharts, dashboards, and other tools, people go nuts. I can see them spark---you can see the epiphanies happening all over the room. Makes me smile every time.

What I had to share---and what people needed---does not fit neatly within a one-hour session. An hour is barely enough time to scratch the surface...and, of course, the more resources and knowledge I accumulate, the more I want to share and support. If the economy was better, I would seriously think about hitting the road as a consultant. After all, I can see what's around the next corner.


teacherninja said...

You are awesome. Sounds great. You need to write a book.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

What a cool surprise! A full room at the end of the last day!

And don't be modest. You are totally on top of this subject. :)

The Science Goddess said...

It was a great crowd and experience.

Now and then, I do think about writing a book---and there are lots out there already. I really get the impression that people want something more interactive and "human." They see their own situations as unique (afew actually are) and somehow think that a book isn't going to address their needs. Makes me think that being the "Johnny Appleseed" of grading might be a better way of being a change agent. Guess we'll see what happens.

The Science Goddess said...

Hugh---hey, just because I kinda sorta know my stuff doesn't mean any of the attendees knew that. LOL Out of the hundred-plus there, I only knew 5 people...so I have to think the subject matter was the big draw.

Are you ready for your big gig in a couple of weeks? I know a crew that is headed down there.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Ready to rock 'n' roll, SG!

Angela Watson said...

The Johnny Appleseed of Grading...I like that. You may have found your calling! :-)

Unknown said...

My district will be forcing our high school to "standards based grading" next school year. I'm anxious that this change will result in less time preparing to teach and more time grading. I've spoken to several teachers in my district at different grade levels who have used this system in their schools for a year or so, and their vote seems universally against SBG as a confusing waste of time.

Your blog, however, seems in favor of SBG. Before our school discusses the change, I'd like some data as to its effectiveness. I've spent an hour on Google and have found no data on its effectiveness, or even any studies that try to evaluate its effectiveness, which I found odd. Does anybody on this blog have links to reputable collegiate or government studies that show SBG to be beneficial or not to student achievement?

I'd greatly appreciate such studies.



The Science Goddess said...

Hi, Richard,

Actually, there is a significant body of research out there on grading practices and their impacts in various areas of education. "Achievement" is a rather broad category, but if you narrow in a bit, you should be able to locate what you want. I would also recommend a look at work by Susan Brookhart or the Thomas Guskey in this area.

It is also worth noting that in terms of "traditional" things like assigning zeros for missing assignments, averaging grades, and other "traditional" practices, there is zero research out there to support this. Considering current dropout rates, student performance measures such as state tests, NAEP, and TIMSS, and the persistent achievement gap, I don't think we have much of a claim that traditional measures of grading are working.

I would say that I spent about half the time grading using SBG that I did using traditional practices. It does require a philosophical shift---and that takes time to adjust to. I wish you the best for your district!

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Yo, Richard...

While I truly hope your district isn't "forcing" anything, I have feeling that you're one of the folks who can't be bothered to learn anything on their own.

SBG results in less time spent grading because you spend just a little time recording summative assessments while giving feedback on formative assessments in many different forms, including verbal, rather than slavishly noting every homework assignment, quiz, or twitch a student makes. And that does not take up a lot of time.

Come back and share your views after you've read O'Connor's Repair Kit book. You might see things differently.

Or visit me and see what I think about teachers who cling to their zeros and notions of "credit."

Unknown said...

Hi Hugh,

Please don't flame me. I'm here in the hope that I can learn something from teachers who care about their craft and have experience with SBG. I spent several hours trying, on my own, to learn about SBG. So far, I have not found any academic studies that show the effects of moving to SBG. I'd very much like some hard evidence. Do you know of any? All discussion I've seen is only anecdotal. It would seem prudent to have such data before asking our community (teachers, students, parents) to make such a shift.

I'm a high-school teacher that teaches exclusively AP social studies (European History, US History, Macroeconomics, and Microeconomics). I have years of excellent results with my students on the AP exams -- all far exceeding national averages. I'm concerned that the switch to SBG will prevent my students from attaining the same success, and I want some evidence before we make the switch. So far, I can't find any, but that may just be because I haven't looked in the right places.

Data I'd like:

1. Data analyzing success of SBG in preparing AP students in college-level high-school courses. (Our school is an AP Focus School, teaching about 29 different AP courses.)

2. Data analyzing success of SBG in improving state standardized exams, particularly in classrooms of mixed abilities, races, and special needs.

I'd also greatly appreciate any comments from AP HS social studies teachers who have made the switch.

Since our middle schools moved toward SBG, as a high school teacher I've noticed a drop in student achievement in my classes. This could be entirely coincidental, or due to other changes in our system, such as mainstreaming special ed students and the removal of "basic" level courses for ELL students. I'd like some evidence that shows that SBG improves performance.

Thanks very much,


Unknown said...

Thanks very much. I'll look for Brookhart and Guskey's research. I just read several web pages with excerts from Guskey's work, and found them thought provoking. I was concerned by his statement that moving to SBG "takes a lot of work" and that it "may add considerably to the workload of teachers and school leaders." I don't have a millisecond of extra time! (http://course1.winona.edu/lgray/el626/Articlesonline/Guskey_helping.html)

How do teachers handle demanding AP courses with SBG? For example, in AP US, there is simply so much material to learn that I can't imagine that students could find time to relearn areas that they don't grasp the first time around. There are definitely some skills involved (DBQ essays, for example), but mostly its a race to learn as many details as possible in a short year. I already have chapter quizzes that prepare students for unit tests... is that already SBG?



The Science Goddess said...

SBG is not so much about the kinds of assessments you use as what you do with that information. I taught AP for a number of years---and I certainly understand the pressure to get kids ready for the big dance. However, I think the advantage of coupling best practices in grading with AP is that is does change the focus to learning (as opposed to shallow memorization of facts). I agree that the pace of AP is such that a large volume of information is pressed out to kids every week, making interventions difficult. What a boon for kids to know that although the class may move forward that they can have opportunities as individuals to deepen their learning and have another opportunity to show it.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment. I agree with it all.

For AP courses, do you use a set of standards established by the district, or do you use standards published by the College Board? or do teachers write their own standards (which could decouple them from state and district standards). If I used district standards for normal US History, all my students would be "exceeds standard" without much study or learning.

The Science Goddess said...

AP really is a special animal. If it were me, I would use the College Board information---because (at least for those who take The Test) that is what they are accountable for. Just my $.02 (which may be all it's worth).

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Richard, I should have been back here earlier to apologize for being short with you.

Our school district is moving (albeit at a glacial pace) toward implementing SBG, and one of the cool things we're in the midst of doing is putting up pdf copies and links to of all kinds of opinion papers and research on classroom assessment and standards-based grading.

I'll keep the Goddess informed, and maybe you'd like to tune in when we're on the air.