Thursday, July 15, 2010

My First Shot at Standards Based Grading

This was my first year to implement Standards Based Grading in my classroom and I was scared to death to try it but I have to say it worked out great. The kids seemed to catch on pretty quick, only a few parents asked questions or made comments and even the Inclusion teachers with me thought it was a hit. Here's a summary of what I did and what I learned. By the way, I teach Algebra 1A and 1B (Algebra 1 split into two years).

1. I took my book and typed out each section's objective on a spreadsheet and then compared it to the Alabama Course of Study.
  • First, I was able to eliminate some sections of the book completely because they weren't in our CoS.
  • Then, I combined sections into single concepts where possible. For example, I put Add, and Subtract Rationals into one concept, Multiply and Divide Rationals into another. That's four separate sections in our book and they are actually in two different chapters.
  • It was even more interesting to find some things in our CoS are not in our book and alot of stuff in our book doesn't need to be taught, something they don't give any guidance on for new teachers!!!
  • I narrowed it down to 36 concepts for each course (although I went back and split one concept, so really 37 for 1A).
2. I posted the Concepts on my website and gave them a copy of the checklist, explaining how they would keep track of their scores for mastery. I spent about half a day going through it with the kids. I used Dan Meyer's method of grading on a scale of 4 and then increasing the difficulty the second time around and raising the scale to 5. That was the hardest thing for them to comprehend at first.
  • Turns out they kind of just have to do it to see where it leads them. It's just hard to explain.
  • Only about 20% of them really kept up with their checklist to see what they mastered. I probably should have checked those every 9 weeks for a grade or something to encourage them to keep up with it more.
  • I had a few kids that were hooked when they realized they could retake as much as possible without their grade going down, but that they always had a shot to improve.
3. Making the tests was the best part. I have a PDF of my book and all of the test questions so I just cut and paste them into my template. Going by concept cut down on the number of questions on each assessment (which saved time grading) and allowed me to tweak questions easily (which is almost impossible when you are giving the Chapter 2 Test).
  • I kind of used a rolling method: First test was Concepts 1,2,3. Second one was 1,2,3,4. Third one was 2,3,4,5 and so on. I could drop off or add as many as they could handle which was so perfect.
  1. Grading was so much easier. Even though they had to show work it was better than grading long tests. Assigning the rubric score was easier than I had thought it would be too.
  2. I was worried about how going to 70% tests and 30% other, while almost wiping out grading homework, would work. But I was fortunate to have some kids in my 1B class that I had the previous year in 1A so I knew their level and ability and the grades were pretty darn accurate. What happened was kids would make a 1 on a concept and see a huge drop in their grade (because there were fewer grades and little homework). This motivated them to do the extra work and come back for the re-tests. They would see a huge impact when they went from a 1 to a 3 or 4.
  3. No more extra credit!!! In the past when kids would ask for extra credit or how to get their grade up, I would give them a list of zeroes they had (work for me), they would copy it off of someone or halfway do the work, then I would have to grade it (work for me) and then update their grade (work for me). OR I would come up with an alternate assignment (work for me) and then grade it, etc. (work for me). Now I just pull up my grades and say, "Huh, you made a 1 on Concept 12. Why don't you go home and rework that concept and come in during PE tomorrow and try again?" They would either never show (no work for me) or come in and I would make up 4 problems on the spot and let them retake (minimal work, even less if they didn't improve their score).
  4. It made talking to parents easier. When I got an email about a low grade, I would just tell the parents to ask to see their checklist. Usually never heard another word. If I did, I just explained that they could come anytime to retake any concept and the parents would be like "really, why haven't they come in?" Good question...
  5. Overall, it was the best thing I ever did in my five years in the classroom. The concept lists are on my site if you want to peek at them and I'll help any way I can.


  1. Thanks for sharing this - it looks like I followed a process somewhat similar to you (although my list is WAY longer, especially in Algebra 2). I'm hoping to be able to tweak the list after this year. Thanks, too, for sharing your insights on how it went with your students. Here's hoping that I have that kind of success... :-)

  2. Thanks Clifford for sharing your experiences. I am starting SBG with my grade 9 adapted class this year and I am so grateful you and others who are sharing your thoughts about this. I am looking at posting my concept lists/ student mastery marks online using engrade so that students and parents had access to their current standing 24/7. I'm even considering weighting everything at zero initially so that the percentage doesn't take their focus away from the concepts they need to work on. Being that I'm only meeting my class tomorrow for the first time, I'm still struggling with what this is all going to look like.