Wading into Standards Based Grading (SBG) including HS Math

When I first heard of SBG, I immediately interpreted that to mean “dumb down to lowest common denominators.”  But a few years ago I recognized the need to major on majors  such that the weakest students could continue to learn-forward while stronger students worked toward maximizing their potential.

Years ago, I learned that one of the other teachers in my department experimented with Mastery Quizzes, which got me thinking.  While that can certainly become an overwhelming practice with tons of grading odds-and-ends quizzes throughout the year, it can be done in such a way as to accomplish the objectives of SBG in a logistically practical way.  Here is the path I follow to structure my SBG:

  1.  Identify a base of most important skills that is manageable
  2. After students have had exposure to one of those skills to the extent that a majority of students should get it, assess it with a Mastery Quiz. This not only affirms mastery by the majority, but it is a great opportunity to provide specific feedback.
  3. Have supports ready to help struggling students (video links, opportunities to dialog online after school, peer tutoring…).  I have drastically cut the need for one-on-one, in-person remediation because one-on-one is more convenient electronically for the students.
  4. Students who need to retake their Mastery Quizzes stop by before/after school, during lunch, when they have a sub in another class, etc.  This is the most difficult part but probably the most beneficial.  This practice:
  • Helps students to reach for accomplishment rather than taking up class time to fix grades.
  • Reminds students and parents via comments in the grade book that the grade is fixable or gamified, and the skill is important enough to pursue.

As a result, these hugely important skills can be heavily weighted in the grade book.  The weakest students have the bare minimum skills to survive at the next level, and the strongest students can shoot for higher grades on chapter tests.  Without SBG I would argue there is higher risk for some students passing with superfluous skills.  With content areas such as math, those students are much less likely to be successful at upper levels.

SBG allows weak students to move along as they mature in their academic and organizational skills.  It also allows challenges mature students to strive for excellence in the same class.  We would not want to hold back students because their physical maturation does not meet the norms.  Neither should we hold back students who have not yet met norms for organizational skills or academic maturity.




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