Category Archives: standards-based grading

SBG Presentation

I have been doing a lot of presentations on standards-based grading lately and I thought this might be a good place to post the slides I have been using. Feel free to borrow, implement and ask questions!

PDF: HSTW-Making Standards-Based Grading Work for You

The SBG buy in: Getting students and parents on board

If you are making the leap to standards-based grading this year, you might be wondering how to get students and parents to buy into the idea. Sometimes as teachers, our fear of having one of these situations:

stops us from trying something new. Real talk: switching to SBG is not going to be all unicorns and rainbows. Some students and parents will have a hard time understanding why are you making this change. It is 100% worth it. To help ease your transition, I have compiled some tips that have helped me get students and parents on board over the past few years (yes, I did learn some of these the hard way).

1. Do your research 

SBG is not for the faint of heart. If you are going to commit to it, make sure you know the ins and outs of your system and the reasoning behind it. You are going to have to defend what you are doing to administrators, parents and most importantly, your students. Make sure you know what you are talking about and you can answer any and all questions. Before I dove into my first year of SBG, I read A LOT of blogs. Just Google “standards-based grading” and you will find a wealth of information.

2. Get an administrator on your side

This tip is almost as important as the first one. You need an administrator on your side who both trusts your judgement and understands what you are doing. I have been very fortunate to have supportive administration throughout my implementation of SBG. Having administrative support will give you more confidence as you present this new system to students and parents. If a student or parent is having an especially hard time adjusting, you will know that someone has your back.

3. Always be positive

This one is the real difference maker when it comes to students. The switch to SBG directly affects the students. They are the ones you need to convince. The easiest way to do this is to stay positive. Yes, SBG is going to turn everything your students know about education upside down. They are going to feel really uncomfortable about it. It will be a hard adjustment. You do not need to tell your students these things, they already know them. Instead, tell students, “we are going to use a new grading system this year that I think you are really going to like. It really works in your favor!” Do this from day 1.

4. Don’t dump all the details on day 1

SBG is already overwhelming for students and parents, don’t add to it by dumping a ton of unnecessary details on them on day 1. Give students and parents the main paradigm shifts and an overview of the logistics. Tell your students “we are going to go through this whole thing together. After your first quiz, we will look at it and talk about what it means. I will make sure you understand what your grade means.” Just be reassuring and hold their hands through the process.

5. Keep it simple

This may not be universally agreed on by SBG enthusiasts, but I believe in keeping it simple, especially if it is your first year of SBG. There are a ton of different flavors of SBG. You can have tiered targets, you can do weighted averages, you can have power standards. These are all great and I have seen them work really well in an SBG framework but I think it is harder to get students and parents to buy into a system they do not understand. Pick a calculation method that is straight forward. I opt for median for the final learning target grade and then I average all the learning targets. If you do your research from tip 1, you should be able to come up with something that works for you!

Best of luck with your SBG endeavors. Remember, if you believe in it, everyone else will too!

Autocrat for Reassessments

If you are switching to a standards-based grading system, you might be thinking “how I am going to handle reassessments?!” If any student can reassess any learning target at any time, things can get messy. My solution to reassessments my first two years of using SBG was having students line up at my desk so I could think of a question off the top of my head and write it on a post-it note. I tried having them sign up on a notepad ahead of time and making the reassessments the day before but that lasted about a week. At the end of a grading quarter, my desk basically looked like this:

Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but close. I knew there had to be a better way to organize reassessments that would not be horribly time consuming; enter technology. A colleague of mine introduced me to a nifty Google Sheets add-on called Autocrat. Autocrat is your documenting making/merging assistant and your new reassessment guru. Autocrat allows students to schedule a reassessment with you using a Google Form and then takes the information from that form and puts it in a Google Document using a template you provide. All you have to do it open the document, insert a question, print.

Here is how it works:

You will need a basic knowledge of the Google Drive Suite for this tutorial.

First, go make yourself a Google Form for your students to use to schedule reassessments. Mine looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.16.45 PMNext, make a new Google Document to serve as your reassessment template. Every reassessment you make will use this template so it should include useful information like the student’s name, the date, and the learning target being assessed (information that should be collected by the form). Mine looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.23.09 PM

You might be wondering “what is going on with “<<>>” around certain words.” These are called merge tags. You want to put a merge tag around any information that can be pulled from the form you made earlier. Anything with a merge tag around it will be different for each reassessment. Don’t worry about your template wording matching your form wording, we will fix that later.

Now comes the fun part! Open the Google Sheet that contains the responses to the form you made. If you haven’t already, you need to add-on Autocrat. Do that using the “Add-Ons” menu in Sheets. Got Autocrat? Good.

From the “Add-Ons” menu, launch Autocrat and click “New Merge Job.” Click the “Drive” button to select the template you made earlier. On the next screen, it will ask you to match your merge tags from your template with the form questions that provide the appropriate information. This is what my match-up looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.32.06 PM

Save that and move on to the next screen. Now you need to decide how you are going to name all of the reassessment files that Autocrat creates. I suggest using the student’s name, the learning target being assessed, and the date. Copy/paste the $tags at the top of the screen that correspond to the values you want in the file name. Mine looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.37.20 PM

All of my reassessment files will be named with the convention “last name, first name:learning goal – date” You can expand the “Advanced” options to select a folder in your drive to dump all of these new files in and you can check the “run autocrat when new forms are submitted” box to automate the process. Click “Save” and you are done!

Go test you new automated reassessment creator by filling out your form. Autocrat will add a link to your spreadsheet to the new reassessment document it created. This document will also be in the folder you specified earlier. What you do with this document is up to you.

You can print it and handwrite the reassessment question. I am personally going to type the reassessment question right into the document and then copy/paste that question into a master question bank spreadsheet. If your school is 1:1, you can just share the reassessment document with the student. My school isn’t quite 1:1 yet so I am going to print the reassessment and stick it in a folder at my self-serve reassessment station. When the student is free to reassess, he or she will come in, grab the reassessment, take it and turn it in.

No more lines at my desk and no more piles of post-it notes!

If you are feeling really techy, you can go to the “Tools” drop-down menu on your spreadsheet and select “notification rules.” You can set up a daily digest that tells you about any reassessment requests submitted that day.

Happy te(a)ching!

Chemistry Learning Goals (2016-2017)

Updated for 2016-2017 school year

This post is going to be quite practical. The backbone of any standards-based grading system is a solid list of learning goals (targets, objectives, standards, whatever your school calls them). These are the standards I used last school year. I will probably tweak them before next year and I hope to get through more content this year and add another unit of learning goals. Feel free to borrow these or use them as inspiration for your own!

Unit 1: Physical Properties of Matter

1.1 – I can represent elements, compounds and molecules as “hard spheres” in particle models

1.2 – I can apply the Law of Conservation of Mass to situations involving chemical and physical change

1.3 – I can define mass, volume, and density in terms of a substance’s particles using appropriate units

1.4 – I can apply the relationship between mass, volume and density to solve quantitative problems
Unit 2: Energy and States of Matter Part 1

2.1 – I can represent the characteristics (motion, arrangement, and attraction) of particles in different states of matter

2.2 – I can relate the temperature of a substance to the average kinetic energy of its particles

2.3 – I can relate the pressure a gas exerts to the number of collisions its particles make with a surface

2.4 – I can determine the partial pressure of a particular gas in a mixture

2.5 – I can predict the effect of changing the pressure, volume, or temperature of a gas on other variables when two variables are held constant

2.6 – I can predict the effect of changing the pressure, volume, or temperature of a gas on other variables when one variable is held constant

Unit 3: Energy and States of Matter Part 2

3.1 – I can describe the energy transfer between a system and its surrounding during a phase or temperature change as endothermic or exothermic

3.2 – I can recognize that energy can be stored in an object or system as thermal energy or phase energy

3.3 – I can draw an energy bar graph to account for energy transfer and storage in all sorts of changes

3.4 – I can identify phases present and the various phase change temperatures for substances from a heating/cooling curve

3.5 – I can state the physical meaning of heat of fusion, heat of vaporization, and heat capacity

3.6 – I can calculate the quantity of energy transferred, mass of substance involved, or temperature change for a system that has undergone a temperature change

3.7 – I can calculate the quantity of energy transferred, mass of substance involved, or temperature change for a system that has undergone a phase change
Unit 4: Describing Substances

4.1 – I can distinguish among elements, compounds, pure substances, and mixtures

4.2 – I can distinguish between solutions, suspensions and colloids and describe the unique properties of each

4.3 – I can determine how the boiling point and freezing points of a solution differ from those of a pure substance

4.4 – I can state features of Dalton’s model of the atom
Unit 5: Particles with Internal Structure

5.1 – I can explain how ions are formed and how they combine to form neutral substances

5.2 – I can determine the oxidation numbers for various elements in a compound

5.3 – I can distinguish between metals and nonmetals and describe the unique properties of each

5.4 – I can distinguish between ionic, molecular, and atomic solids and describe the unique properties of each

5.5 – I can name and write formulas for ionic compounds

5.6 – I can name and write formulas for molecular compounds

5.7 – I can determine whether a substance is ionic or molecular from the name or formula of a substance

Unit 6: Chemical Reactions: Particles and Energy

6.1 – I can identify evidence of chemical reactions in terms of macroscopic observations

6.2 – I can write balanced chemical equations

6.3 – I can explain that coefficients in a chemical equation describe the quantities of substances involved and subscripts describe the number of atoms involved

6.4 – I can identify basic patterns in the way substances react (reaction types) and use them to predict products

6.5 – I can describe endothermic and exothermic reactions in terms of storage or release of chemical potential energy
Unit 7: Counting Particles Too Small to See

7.1 – I can convert between mass and moles of an element or compound

7.2 – I can convert between the number of particles and moles of an element or compound

7.3 – I can relate the molar concentration (molarity) of a solution to the number of moles and volume of the solution

7.4 – I can determine the empirical formula of a compound given the mass or percent composition

7.5 – I can determine the molecular formula of a compound given the mass or percent composition and molar mass
Unit 8: Stoichiometry

8.1 – I can calculate the number of moles of reactants and products in a chemical reaction from the number of moles of one reactant or product

8.2 – I can determine the theoretical yield for a reaction

8.3 – I can determine the percent yield for a reaction

8.4 – I can determine the limiting reactant in a chemical reaction

8.5 – I can use the ideal gas law equation to determine the number of moles in a sample of gas not at standard conditions
Unit 9: Acids and Bases

9.1 – I can distinguish between acids and bases and describe the ions they form

9.2 – I can write the balanced equation for a proton-transfer reaction

9.3 – I can define pH as the negative log concentration of hydronium ions in a solution

9.4 – I can write the names and formulas of common binary acids and oxyacids

9.5 – I can predict the products of a neutralization reaction between a strong acid and strong base

9.6 – I can distinguish between strong acids and bases and weak acids and bases
Unit 10: The Nucleus

10.1 – I can draw the models of the atom proposed by Thomson and Rutherford.

10.2 – I can state the location in the atom, the charge, and the relative mass of protons and neutrons

10.3 – I can distinguish between the atomic number, mass number and atomic mass for an element

10.4 – I can calculate the average molar mass of an element using mass spectrometry data

10.5 – I can describe the three types of nuclear radiation in terms of mass, charge, penetrating power, ionization potential and biological hazard

10.6 – I can write a balanced equation for a nuclear decay reaction

10.7 – I can use the concept of half-life to solve for the fraction of original material remaining,
elapsed time, or half-life

10.8 – I can analyze the pros and cons of nuclear technology including fission and fusion applications
Unit 11: Beyond the Nucleus

11.1 – I can draw the model of the atom proposed by Bohr

11.2 – I can represent the first 20 elements on the periodic table using men-in-well diagrams

11.3 – I can account for periodic trends in ionization energy, atomic radius and electronegativity

11.4 – I can represent the first 20 elements on the periodic table using electron configurations

11.5 – I can visualize the 3D molecular geometry of simple molecular compounds

11.6 – I can construct Lewis structures for simple molecular compounds

11.7 – I can determine whether a simple molecular compound is polar or non-polar

11.8 – I can identify the intermolecular attractions at work in a substance and their implications on material
Laboratory Skills

Lab.1 – I can conduct and clean up laboratory experiments properly and safely

Lab.2 – I can identify the hypothesis to be tested, phenomenon to be investigated, or the problem to be

Lab.3 – I can document experimental procedures clearly and completely

Lab.4 – I can record observations and experimental data neatly and accurately

Lab.5 – I can justify conclusions using experimental evidence
Communication Skills

Com.1 – I can communicate precision of measurements and calculations using significant figures

Com.2 – I can analyze the slope and y-intercept for a line of best fit to explain a scientific relationship.

Com.3 – I can convert between units of measurement


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!

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.

Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!

One of my science teacher heroines is Ms. Frizzle from the magic school bus. Remember her teaching philosophy?

I need a poster of this in my room so I can point to it when my students ask their favorite question; “is this right?” This question hurts my soul for a few reasons…

1. Students just want a yes or no answer

2. There is no emphasis on the process, just the answer

3. The question is usually accompanied by the statement “I don’t want to be wrong”

Somewhere along the way we taught students that it is not okay to be wrong. At some point we told students that the process doesn’t matter, you only get credit for the final answer. Most importantly, we taught students that it is not okay to make mistakes. Ms. Frizzle would be seriously disappointed.

So how do I combat this in my classroom? I use two tools:

1) Modeling Instruction

2) Standards-Based Grading

Modeling instruction helps me battle the dreaded “is this right?” question by simply never answering it. I reply to every question with another question. I always start with “I don’t know, what do you think?” so the student is forced to explain his or her reasoning. If there are blatant errors, I may pinpoint a particular spot and ask “why did you do this?” If there are no errors I might ask “are you confident in your reasoning?” I never give a “yes” or “no” answer.

Standards-based grading allows students to make mistakes on assessments and be given a second chance… and a third chance…. and a fourth chance…. and even a twentieth chance if it comes to it! Students are assessed multiple times on a single learning target and always have the opportunity to initiate their own reassessments. Students are not penalized for learning at different paces as long as they learn. That is the objective after all.

These two strategies together have helped shift the culture in my classroom from one of rote memorization to genuine learning. Do students still ask “is this right?” Of course they do. Now I just sit back and smile as another student in the room answers before I can, “I don’t know, what do you think?”