Sunday, April 21, 2013

Transitioning to Standards Based Grading: Retakes and No K's.

I have had several teachers approach me over the past month asking about Standards Based Grading.  Now I am far from being the SBG guru, but I can share with you what I have seen first hand in my school.  Our school has not transitioned to "full blown" SBG, but many of our teachers are now using a hybrid system, that in my opinion, is better than no change at all.

We are still on the 100 point scale, and many of the teachers who have inquired about this are also on the traditional grading scale.  So here are three steps you can implement, which will benefit student learning:

1.  Allow students to retake an assessment (quiz/test).  A grade's true purpose is to communicate a student's level of mastery.  If you determine a student has only mastered 70%, then why not give him or her an opportunity to learn some more and then demonstrate his or her new level of understanding?  The whole purpose of teaching is to make sure students are learning.  When the student retakes the assessment on the same material, enter his or her new grade into the grade book.  If the student demonstrated 90% mastery on the second attempt, then put the 90% in the grade book.

2.  Separate behavior from grading.  If a student turns in an assignment or project late, there should be a consequence.  That consequence should NOT be the student's grade. If your building principal is pushing for SBG, then he or she has to be willing to help you on this part.  A possible consequence could be a lunch detention.  The consequence should NOT be half credit.  If you are on your own in this venture, meaning your change to SBG is teacher driven, then I will be honest, you will have to get creative here.  I believe if you communicate what you are doing with your building principal, he or she is going to assist you in this endeavor.

3.  Stop giving Ks.  This is a big one, and has more to do with making sure our grade books are an accurate reflection of what a student has mastered.  We have to be sure we are not altering students' grades with items that do not reflect their level of mastery (extra credit, participation points, completion points).  Most schools grade on a 100 point scale:  90-100 A; 80-89 B; 70-79 C; 60-69 D; and 0-59 is an F.  If we continued on that 10 point scale, a zero would be the equivalent to a K.  Now if I were to ask you how likely would it be for a student to go from a D to a B with three weeks left in the grading period, many of you would tell me it would be unlikely.  So how likely would it be for a student to go from a K to a D in the same time period?  That student would have to jump six letter grades just to get to a D.

Now this is the hard part, I had great difficulty doing this as a teacher, but it was never explained to me like I am going to try to explain it to you.  Instead of giving the student a zero, you give them a 50, which is an F.  It makes an F the same weight as any other grade we issue.  You are not giving them something for nothing, you are making sure that an F has the same weight as an A.  If you issue that student a zero, you are really giving them a K.  Some students may deserve an F, but no kid deserves a K.

If you are going to accomplish one thing, make sure your grades reflect what a student actually knows and not how hard they try.  It will make it easier for you as a teacher to identify who has not mastered the skills, so that you can do what you got into teaching for in the first help kids.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What's More Important: The Deadline or the Skill?

I am the principal in a 7-8 building, perhaps the last venue where we try to give kids second and sometimes third chances.  This happens mostly with discipline, but also with academics.  This is really the last time where a kid's grades do not really matter.  I am unaware of any college or employer that has ever requested a transcript from a student's junior high school.

My teachers and I are currently having discussions about grading practices, Standards-Based Grading, and everything in between.  I do not know that we will ever adopt a truly standards-based grading system, but I believe we are on our way to making our grading system more meaningful.

I believe it is our responsibility to make sure every kid is learning the content and skills that are required of them.  I am a big believer in re-teaching and reassessing.  It is more important THAT the child learns the material than WHEN the child learns the material.  If a child takes an assessment (I dislike the word test) and fails, because he or she does not know the material, that child receives a low grade.  So far, that is fair.  However, simply putting that grade in the grade book and moving on is the exact reason why public schools are in the position they are today.  This process begins early on in a child's education, that child never learns the necessary skills, and then that child continues to fall further and further behind.  It would be my hope that the child receives some more instruction, is reassessed and then his or her grade is updated to reflect that knowledge. Here is where the debate begins, the debate of THAT vs. WHEN.

The number one response (unofficial survey) is that it is not fair to the kids who got it the first time to allow kids to be reassessed.  I missed the part in education school where they taught us that a grade's primary purpose was to compare and rank students.  It was my understanding that a grade is a tool that tells us about an individual's level of mastery. If that is the case, then it is unfair if we do not reassess that individual.

The number two response (again, unofficial survey), and gaining some momentum lately, is that we are not preparing the students for college because there will not be an opportunity for a redo when the child gets to college.  That is probably correct, but what is more important for us to teach our students: deadlines OR the actual skills the students will need in order to be successful? I contest it is the latter.  I understand deadlines and responsibility are important skills to learn, but not at the expense of learning the primary skill that was at the heart of the assignment, project, or assessment in the first place.

I have two daughters, and they both enjoy playing golf.  It would be nice if they made it to the LPGA Tour (I'm really not that dad, just trying to prove a point).  My rationale would be it is more important for them to learn the basic skills than it would be to learn those skills on the lightning quick greens of Augusta or Oakmont.  So I choose to take them out to the local public course.  My detractors would say, "Well the greens on the LPGA Tour are not that slow, you are not preparing them to be successful."  I think most people would look at that person and see their logic is flawed.

I wish more people saw it that way in education.