Switching to an SBG framework isn’t just a big change for you as a teacher, it is a huge change for your students and their parents. Here are are some concerns I have heard from students, parents, administrators and colleagues and how I address them.
1. There are no reassessments in college. How is this grading system preparing students for college?
True, in most college classes there are no reassessments. One of the most useful skills students can learn to prepare for college is self-assessment and self-reflection. College professors do not hunt students down to let them know they are struggling or pull students aside to give them extra help. In college, students need to know how to assess their own skills and know when to ask for help. SBG helps students develop those skills by training them to think about their grades in terms of skills, not assignments.
2. If students can reassess any learning target, can’t every student get an “A”?
Yes! That would be awesome! If every student gets an “A” in an SBG class, that means everyone learned what they were supposed to! This has never happened before but I would be super excited if it did!
3. If you don’t grade homework, how do you get students to do it?
This goes back to the idea of self-reflection and self-assessment. Homework is for practice. Students who need more practice do more homework. Students who need less practice do less homework. Students learn pretty quick after the first assessment whether they are a more homework person or a less homework person. Homework is indirectly graded because students who do not practice typically do not perform well on assessments.
4. If you don’t grade homework or participation, how are students who do not test well going to succeed?
There are a lot of possible answers to this question. First, giving smaller, more frequent assessments cuts down on test anxiety because one assessment is not going to make or break a student’s grade. Second, the option to reassess also cuts down on test anxiety because mistakes aren’t the end of the world and can be corrected. Third, every learning target is assessed multiple times so students have multiple chances to show what they know. Lastly, assessments types are varied among quizzes, practicums, lab reports and challenge problems so there are multiple ways to demonstrate mastery.
5. Why use a three point scale? If a student gets an “almost”, isn’t that failing?
This question is based on applying the framework of a traditional grading system to a standards-based grading system. Yes, a 1/2 is failing but an individual learning target is not the whole picture. The goal of SBG is mastery. A typical grading quarter will consist of about 15 learning targets over which students will have a variety of scores. The overall grade for the class is based on an average of all of these learning targets. The more targets the student has mastered, the higher that student’s grade will be. If a student ends up having all “almosts” at the end of the quarter, he or she would receive a failing grade because no mastery has been shown. What is more likely to be seen is a student has a couple “almosts” peppered in amongst many “got its” and receives an overall grade of “A” because that student has demonstrated a large amount of mastery.
If you make the big switch, you will get lots of questions. The key is to always remain positive when talking about it. If you believe in it, everyone else will too!