May 11, 2016

Follow Up: Standards Based Grading

Our whole district is transitioning to standards based grading. I've been using a hybrid version (only SBG for tests and quizzes) for several years. This summer we had a workshop and the Algebra 1 team implemented the plan this year.

Our Process:
Each assignment was graded on a 0-5 scale.
We divided the year into 12 units plus the standards for mathematical practices (I used the portfolios). Assignments in a unit were averaged to earn a score for each topic.

Each topic was weighted equally when averaging to get a report card friendly grade for the course. This was a bit tricky because first quarter we only had three topics to average. Then second quarter we needed to carry over first quarter scores and add new ones. I'm hopeful this process will be less tedious with Aspen, the new grading system we'll be using next year.

SBG was useful for me:

  • the grade was focused on topics rather than assignments
  • I was sure to balance assessment types
    • there was at least one quiz, test and graded assignment for each topic
    • unlike last year when I would grade six assignments but never quiz on some topics!
  • I could see overall how students were doing by unit, with a balanced assessment of their skills. 
  • It was easier to see where to start with retakes. 
    • told kids to start by correcting the graded assignment (they can get help on those) 
    • then retake a test or quiz (they have to do those independently)

SBG was unclear for students and parents after the first quarter:

Kids were already transitioning from middle school where grades are not numeric (they get marked as below/at/above grade level for each class and then marked on content and citizenship and something else). All the rest of their classes this year were numeric and each quarter was a fresh start, but in Algebra each unit was a fresh start, but the only thing that went home or that most people looked at online was the average, a cumulative average. For example, some students did poorly first quarter, then retook things (hooray!). But then when they did poorly second quarter it wasn't as obvious because they were only looking at the average of the improved first quarter grades and the new grades. If students and parents and other teachers would look at the topic grades things would be much clearer, but since we were the only team doing this it wasn't well communicated.

Next year:

We need to make reporting clearer or be consistent with the rest of the school. Ideally we would have a standards based report card, but the rest of the school isn't there yet. We could print our own (category averages are pretty easy to print for each kid, I imagine this will still be true next year in Aspen) and mail them home. But that's still extra work. Or, we could make sure each unit aligns with a report card. If we won't finish a unit we won't put it on the report card until the next quarter, but this makes spiraling back hard. We would frequently split an assignment into two topics - if we were graphing a line using a table we might grade on evaluating functions and graphing lines. Both standards are necessary to graph a line using a table, so we graded each separately and continued adding grades to that first quarter unit (evaluating functions) throughout the year. Tricky to track!

Overall I think we (as a team of Algebra 1 teachers) did a better job thinking big picture. Our conversations focused more around "Does this student understand the material?" than "How many point would you make question one worth?" I look forward to working with the team to provide opportunities for retakes built into class time. Everyone can benefit from review and if we want retakes to be something everyone does then we need to give some time in class for them. We talked about Friday review days last year and implemented them sporadically this year. Spiraled homework plus Friday review days would be great goals to focus on moving forward.


  1. Thanks for sharing your SBG experience. I am a 6th & 7th grade math teacher and will be teaching 7th & 8th/Algebra 1 in September and I have been wanting to try out SBG for so long.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Its so clear and helpful.