Monthly Archives: May 2015

There are no reassessments in college and other SBG concerns

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!


Doctopus and Goobric

The combination of Doctopus and Goobric has completely changed the way I distribute and grade electronic assignments. If you haven’t used these tools, they will most likely blow your mind.

Basically, Doctopus reaches it’s tentacles into your students’ Google Drive accounts and places an assignment in a folder it makes for them. Doctopus populates a list of all of the links to these assignments in your spreadsheet. Students do not have to share the document with you because you already have it! No more inundation of share notification emails and sifting through your shared folder to find documents! You can even see from your spreadsheet if your students have been editing their documents.

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It gets better with Goobric! Make the rubric you want to grade the assignment with in Sheets, attach it to the assignment using Doctopus and grade away! When you open one of your students’ assignments, the Goobric extension will recognize that the rubric is attached to it and you can electronically complete the rubric. Goobric will attach the completed rubric to the student’s assignment and can even email it to them. You can even leave typed and voice comments! All of those rubric scores then get compiled into your original spreadsheet.

Sounds awesome, right? Here is how you do it…

First, make sure you are using the Google Chrome browser. Start by opening up a new spreadsheet in Google Drive. Click the “Add-ons” drop down menu, click “get add-ons” and download Doctopus. You can then open Doctopus from the same menu. Doctopus does a really good job at walking you through the process step by step.

Life hack: You don’t want to end up typing in all of your students’ names and emails by hand to generate your roster.

Have your students fill out a Google Form at the beginning of the year with their names and email addresses. Now you already have a roster compiled for you in spreadsheet form!

Once you have gone through all of the steps of Doctopus, you should see a button that says “attach a Goobric” in the Doctopus control panel. Click that button if you are feeling adventurous. A nice window with instructions about downloading the Goobric Chrome extension should pop up. Once you have downloaded the extension you need a rubric. Make your rubric in Google Sheets. Put your possible grades along the top and your criteria down the first column. Here is an example:

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Now go back to your Doctopus control panel and tell Goobric where your rubric is located in your Google Drive and attach it. When you open up your students’ assignments, you should see this guy pop up in your address bar. 

Click him and all your electronic grading dreams will come true. Your rubric will pop up and you can start grading. Goobric will attached the completed rubric and any comments you make to the student’s work. It will even email the student if you want. The best part is if you click “next”, it will automatically open the next assignment in your spreadsheet.

I love this for lab reports in my chemistry class and article reviews in my environmental science class.

Happy grading!

Transparent SBG

I am lucky enough to teach down the hall from my husband (a fellow science teacher, modeler and SBG enthusiast) and over the last two years we have developed a standards-based grading system that has been successful with 8th graders through high school seniors. We attribute a large portion of that success to transparency. Students and parents will not buy into a grading system they do not understand.

Here is a breakdown of our “flavor” of SBG:

1. Students’ grades are tracked by learning target, not assignment

Rationale: This is the basic premise behind any SBG system. A gradebook full of assignments like “quiz 1.1” and “homework 5.2” does not represent what a student has actually learned. If your gradebook says “I can convert between mass and moles” and “I can balance a chemical equation,” now you can actually see what your students know. 

2. For each learning target, students receive a grade of “got it”, “almost” or “not yet”

Rationale: The point grubbing disease is real. How many times has a student come to you and asked “how many points do I need to get an A?” Getting rid of all points language forces students to ask “what do I need to learn to get an A?” The three point scale helps keep objectivity. Either a student gets it, has a few issues but is on the right track or is completely off in left field. Anything more and it gets a bit muddled. 

3. Each learning target is assessed by the teacher on 2-3 different assessments

Rationale: Taking one snapshot of a student’s knowledge does not show growth nor does it show retention. We give small, frequent assessments instead of large exams.

4. Students can initiate reassessments on any learning target at any time

Rationale: Not all students learn at the same pace. If a student can prove that he or she has mastered a concept, his or her grade should reflect that, regardless of when that learning occurred.

5. The median grade of all assessments is taken for each learning target

Rationale: This is probably where the different flavors of SBG vary the most. We use median because it requires students who did not understand a concept at first to prove mastery multiple times but it does not make it impossible to get a grade up. 

6. The overall class grade is the average of all learning targets

Rationale: This where the “got it”, “almost”, and “not yet” has to turn back into points. We set a “got it” as 2 points, an “almost” as 1 point and a “not yet” as 0 points. Then we take a flat average across all learning targets. That average over 2 is the student’s percent in the class. Another flavor that works well is using percent mastery (grade is based on the percent of learning targets that have been mastered). 

This paradigm shift is a little scary for students and parents at first but once everyone understands how it works, it runs quite smoothly. Stay tuned for future posts with practical tips for implementation.