If you are a teacher, school, or district implementing standards-based grading, you might be finding how many decisions there are to make in the process. From the wording and scale to assessing and the parent report, there are many, many details to consider. I have found that even for some schools that have been using SBG for years, these considerations might be worth thinking about. For me, grading and grades demonstrate a philosophy about what school and learning is all about. The way we grade students can change the way students and teachers see learning, therefore it is essential to really think through all the ins and outs of a grading system.
This article will cover some of the questions that our team answered as we were working through the process. As our school has moved through this process, we have learned a few tidbits of information that we thought would be helpful to share with others. We would not claim that we have found the perfect method, but we have found one that will work for us.
The Importance of Collaboration
One of the reasons this is so important is because teachers are not always in agreement for how to grade an assignment or how their gradebook will display the importance of that assignment. Strong professional learning communities have probably discussed this, but in many schools, there is a wide variety of grading practices from one teacher to the next. Some teachers weight tests more than projects and others weight daily work more than anything else. This is why having a collaborative process to make decisions about how standards-based grades will be calculated is vitally important.
Whether the process is just starting in your school or has been in place for a number of years, here are a few questions that should stimulate discussion among professional learning communities:
What scale will be used?
Our team decided early on that we would use a numeric scale. For some schools, letters like “M” for mastery work better. We felt like that was an extra step when using our gradebook system to calculate the grades. We provide a key to parents for what each number on the scale equates to. Our scale is a 1–4: A score of 4 means a student is working above standard or at a more complex/deeper level on the standard, a 3 is the target and indicates mastery of the standard, a 2 is progressing toward mastery, and a 1 is lack of progress toward mastery. We felt like this gave students and parents the best information about where the student stands on a specific standard. We considered leaving off the 4 because it can be hard to define. In the end, we didn’t want students to be limited to just “mastering” the standards, but for work to go above and beyond. There are rationales for many different types of scales—the power in the scale comes from a collective understanding and agreement of what learning looks like for different standards. This consensus is key to implementing standards-based grading in a school.
What happens with students who are using a modified curriculum?
This was a trickier question for us, so we explored what other schools had used to mark this. Some schools used a separate report card for students on different curriculum. In the end, we feel that because students will be expected to know third grade standards on the third grade state assessment, we have to give them exposure to those standards. Therefore, all third graders have the same grade card. What we did add was language in our scale stating that a student who receives a 2 is progressing toward mastery or is at mastery with assistance (this could be a from a para or special education teacher). We thought this would be the most accurate way to indicate where the student was performing on each skill.
What numbers will be entered in the gradebook?
Most student information systems are able to calculate grades in any way a teacher wants them to be computed. It is an option to enter traditional percentages in a gradebook and have them calculated to a 1, 2, 3, or 4. Because we were focused on changing the mindset of learning for both teachers and students, we decided that all grades would be entered as the scale score in the gradebook. For example, at the end of a test, the teacher would enter a 1, 2, 3, or 4 for the standard depending on how the student did. We created some guidelines for what questions needed to be answered correctly for a student to score a 4 on an assignment. This will be a continual process of revision and discussion, but it is a launch point for the type of change in thinking that we were looking for.
These are just a few of the questions to consider. Be sure to look for more coming soon in the second part of our Guiding Teachers Through Standards-Based Grading series. Want to learn more about how to better assess your students? Check out our collection of assessment resources, blogs, and tech.