Category Archives: Assessment

SBG Year 2: Initial Thoughts

Okay, time for some brainstorming! I mentioned in my last post that I have a LOT of areas for improvement in my implementation of SBG. I got all inspired reading the comments to Shawn’s post where people shared how they make reassessing work, and here are my initial thoughts, very much subject to change.

  1. I want to start each day with either a warm-up (over new material, from the last day or so) or a quiz (over material I expect the students to understand). It could be either one on any given day, depending on what I feel like the class needs.
  2. Warm-ups are only given comments, no scores.
  3. Quizzes are given comments and scores.
  4. Quizzes cover multiple Learning Targets. Students are told when a Learning Target will be quizzed for the first time, but older Learning Targets are always a possibility.
  5. Students may use their notes & textbooks during warm-ups, but not during quizzes. (Consideration: Maybe if students feel completely lost on a quiz, they can pull out book & notes and just make a note of that before turning it in? It would go down as a score of 1, but at least they would have the ability to work on learning it better rather than staring at it and then turning in something blank.)
  6. Occasionally, Learning Targets may be assessed via a project (in or out of class, group or individual), or through demonstration of mastery in class discussion.
  7. I think I’ll no longer be using the “most recent score wins” as my way of determining grades. ActiveGrade has several options for how to determine a student’s current score on a Learning Target, and I will play around with those some more before deciding on a method.
  8. For individual reassessments, each class will have an assigned day on which students can come in at lunch to reassess. In order to reassess that week, the student must respond to the following questions at least 2 (3?) school days ahead of their class’s day.
    1. What went wrong before?
    2. What have you done to improve your understanding? Provide evidence of the work you’ve done.
    3. How do you know that your understanding is better now?
    4. How would you explain this concept to a friend?

  9. I think I’m not going to set a specific limit for how many Learning Targets a student can reassess at once, but I will reserve the right to say “too many” if I feel like that’s the case. Lunch is only so long, and Learning Targets do vary in complexity and time required to demonstrate understanding.
  10. I also want to allow a student to suggest an alternative method of demonstrating understanding. In theory I was doing this last year, but I didn’t regularly encourage it, so students rarely stepped up. I would love to have kids say, “Mrs. Dean, I think I really get it now. Let me show you a way that I figured out I can use it.”

So…what do you guys think? Help me work through and refine these ideas. :) Also feel free to comment on whether this sounds like a system someone else will be able to step in and use with relative ease, since I will be taking maternity leave during the third quarter.


Moving toward more formative assessment

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post! I’ve been doing some thinking about my classes in general, how SBG is going, changes I want to make in the coming semester.

A few people have asked me, now that I’ve got a semester of it under my belt, how do I like standards-based grading? The answer: I love it. I still believe what I did at the start – that SBG is a fabulous tool both for my students and for me. Students are aware of exactly where they stand on specific concepts. There’s no question of “but you didn’t say this would be on the test!”, because the Learning Targets are clearly identified for them. They seem to see more clearly that they are the ones in charge of their grades, because they are the ones in charge of their learning. I get to make sure kids demonstrate clearly that they understand the concepts, and I can hold them to a high standard without worrying about what happens if some people haven’t met it yet when we have the quiz. Parents are loving this system – I’ve had a number of them say that they might have enjoyed math in school had they had a teacher who graded like this.

All that said, I definitely have places to improve how my classes work, and I’ve been working on how I can better use this fabulous tool to promote student learning. My biggest concern is that I’m not giving my students enough feedback before they reach a quiz. I’ve been doing whole-class feedback, but not individualized, and that’s just not working. I don’t like waiting until the quiz to discover that the quiet half of the class all had the same misconception about a particular idea. I still want homework to be something that the students are in charge of (meaning it’s practice, not graded, and the students determine how much of it they need to do for their own personal learning).

I’m pretty sure I’m heading in the direction of a daily warm-up. My thoughts about how this will look: I’ll have half-sheets of paper ready for each class, and students walk in and pick one up, immediately getting started on it as they reach their seats. Each warm-up will look something like this (with the parts in bold being different each time):

When they finish, they turn it in, and then they look back over their homework so that once everyone’s done the warm-up we can review it. (This will have the added benefit of helping me structure my class time better. I have a tendency to let time be wasted, and I’m really not okay with that about my teaching.)

I’ll review their work each day. The homework completion goes in an ungraded category in my gradebook, so that I have a record of what they’re getting done (the warm-up sheets will also save class time in that they’ll just write it down and I’ll record it later, rather than asking each person at the start of class). I’ll write comments on their work so that they have individualized feedback, and this way I will have a better idea of whether there are some widespread misconceptions going on, so I can address them in my teaching. I want to use more formative assessment, and this is a step in that direction.

Things that worry me: I tend to get into a what-am-I-doing-next-period sort of place, especially given that this is my first year teaching any of these classes. This daily warm-up thing will require me to stay on top of things much better, given that I’ll need to write one for each class each day, but I’ll also need to read and respond to each student’s work each day. This scares me. I’m afraid I won’t be able to sustain it. But I can’t not try, because I really think this is something my students need.

I’m also worried about the self-check aspect of it, as I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with that besides making them think about where they are. I know that they need to be able to self-assess so that they’ll be able to identify their own areas of strength and weakness so that they can best use their study time. I guess the self-check part of the warm-up sheet is a way of starting a conversation? I don’t know. I don’t want it to be just something they fill out and then nothing happens.

Anyway, I’m out of blogging time for today. I have more ideas for the coming semester, but this is the biggest one, so it’s a start.

“Could we have an oral quiz?”

What would you do (or have you done) if your students asked you that?

I said sure, and tried to figure out a way to make it happen.

This was my 1st period geometry class, but I decided to use the same method for 5th period as well. The unit was on angles, and to be honest, I was feeling very very bored with the whole chapter. I understand the necessity of having students grasp the basic vocabulary and concepts, but it’s so tedious to have to go through it.

So for their quiz, I had the students do an angle scavenger hunt. They worked with a partner, and each pair had a list of terms (same for everyone) and a picture of a quilt block (varied by group).* They had to label points on their pictures and then identify on the list what examples they’d found & labeled for each item. The items on the list were things like “pair of adjacent angles,” “segment that bisects an angle,” etc.

When they’d finished labeling these things with their partners, I called them up individually and asked them questions. “Okay, you wrote that angle ABC and angle CBD are complementary. What do you mean by that? How do you know they’re complementary? You drew them so that they share a side – do they have to share a side in order to be complementary?” And so on. I had my list of Learning Targets beside me and was able to mark their scores as they showed me their examples and explained them to me.

The Good:

  1. I was able to see and correct errors in understanding much more immediately than when students take completely written assessments.
  2. I was able to see some really awesome things about my students’ thinking – one student’s spatial reasoning is really strong, and I know he wouldn’t have written out all the words he said to me about how “if you flip the angle over like this and then slide it over here, it will fit exactly on top of the other one.” Another student tends to rush through written work but was taking his time and thinking carefully so he could communicate using extremely precise language.
  3. I had worried that the working together part might result in a poor measure of individual students’ understandings, but it didn’t – the kids that had different levels of understanding still demonstrated that when they spoke with me one on one, even if they had the exact same things written on their papers.
  4. The “scavenger hunt” aspect made it a little more interesting, at least in my opinion. Don’t know if the kids agree or not – I need to ask them.

The Bad:

  1. This is a classroom management nightmare. Once the kids were done with their own written work, they had to sit around and wait for their turn to talk to me (or wait after they talked to me). Not a productive use of their time, and I need to come up with something else for them to do while they wait if I’m going to use this idea again. It was poor planning.
  2. It took a long time. A traditional assessment would have taken one class period. This took two, and in 1st period where I have kids who take longer to think through things, I still need to talk to a couple more kids. Combined with the previous note especially, I need to work on this. At the same time, though, I don’t want to skip any questions, because I need to make sure they truly have understanding on all the Learning Targets.

I’m sure there were more drawbacks, but those were the really big ones. The kids felt nervous about talking to me individually and getting a grade for it, but hey, I’m defending my thesis on Wednesday and am right there with them on the nervousness thing. Doing this more often would help them feel more confident in their ability to communicate their understanding verbally, I think.

Anyway, just reviewing and reflecting on how this little experiment went. I’m not going to do something like this for every unit, but I may well try something like it again later in the year and/or with other classes.

* The pictures I used were this, this, and this, all of which came from this quilt. Hey, if you have a hobby with mathematical tie-ins, use it, right?

Parent Responses to SBG

We had Parent Night last night. The parents get a copy of their child’s schedule and go through it, spending about 10 minutes in each class.

I spent the majority of the time talking about my grading system. I’d sent home a description of it at the start of the year, but as we all know, those handouts don’t usually get a careful reading from parents. Plus, it’s much easier to explain something like that verbally; the written version is an overview.

So I told them that I’m using standards-based grading, and I explained what that means in my classroom – I told them that scores are based on Learning Targets, showed them my 4-point scoring scale, talked about reassessments, and showed them a sample gradebook with made-up students and scores.

They LOVED it, across the board. I got reactions and comments like these:

  • “I wish my teachers had graded like this!”
  • “I love that the focus is on making sure they learn!”
  • “So anybody can get an A in the class, as long as they’re tenacious about learning.”
  • “So when you give them a reassessment, you can show them where they have weaknesses so that they KNOW what they need to work on in order to understand it.”
  • (after I pointed out that my goal is for them to learn, even if it takes them longer than someone else) “Hallelujah!” :)

Some of the parents already had an idea of how my grading system works, and some didn’t but said they would be talking with their kids about coming in for help and then scheduling reassessments.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the response really blew me away. I mean, *I* think SBG is a fabulous idea with a philosophy that makes sense, but I’ve been reading about it for months and practicing it for several weeks now. For some of these parents, this was really their first time to hear anything about it. So the fact that they were so completely on board with it after my brief spiel was pretty amazing to me…and makes me think I did all right explaining it. :)

Two Weeks In: SBG Thoughts

I’m liking this whole SBG thing. Here are a couple of reasons why I like how it’s working so far.

1. I feel like I can expect clarity from my students.
When grading in the past, I often found myself interpreting students’ answers. “Well,” I would say to myself when reading a response that could have been clearer, “he’s saying this, but I’m pretty sure he means this, so I’ll give him credit, or only take off one point.” That was something I didn’t like about myself as a teacher…but at the same time, if the question was worth 5 points, marking it completely wrong would hurt their grade. What if they really did get it, and they just didn’t make that clear? Not good for me to take points away, necessarily. But on the other side, what if I decided they got it, but they really didn’t? I hated those times when a kid would say, “Really? I got some points on this question? How’d THAT happen? I just put down a random guess!”

Now, though, I don’t have to worry about the points. A geometry student wrote down that the pattern for a sequence of numbers was “divide the number and its quotient by two, then two again.” I was pretty sure he understood that the pattern was to divide a term by two in order to get the next term, but that wasn’t quite what he communicated. So I gave him a score of 3 on that Learning Target (there were other aspects of the problem wherein he demonstrated better understanding, but he wasn’t all the way there). He came back for a reassessment and showed me that he did understand it clearly. He wasn’t stuck with a bad grade, and I wasn’t stuck having to guess whether he got it or not. Taking the focus away from the points lets me demand excellence in their communication skills, and so far, they’re rising to the occasion.

2. I can see clear relationships between students’ homework effort and their understanding.
I am keeping track of homework completion as a gradebook category that I’ve set to 0%, and I just mark each assignment as 0 (less than 25% done), 1 (25-75% done), or 2 (more than 75% done). With the scores on quizzes separated into Learning Targets, it is so clear that there’s a connection between doing the homework and understanding the material. I love how this system lets me see that the kids who scored low on Concept X are the same kids who got 0’s or 1’s on the homework for Concept X. Much clearer than a score on Test #3.

3. Students are taking charge of their grades.
They aren’t asking for extra credit or how they can bring their grade up. They’re coming to me and saying, “I want to have a reassessment for Learning Target 2, the one about domain and range.” Some of my high achievers are shocked to realize that they got a 75% on something (if they scored 3 on my 4-point scale), but I just say, “You know what to do if you’re not satisfied with that,” and they say, “Right. Reassess. Can I come in at lunch on Tuesday?”


So, yeah, I think the SBG kool-aid tastes better and better. Some things I need to work on:

A. Broader Learning Targets.
I knew when I was writing them that I was probably focusing too narrowly, but now that I’m walking it out I’m seeing how I can make LTs that are more broadly defined. This may be something I just make notes to myself about and then change next year, since I already made up all the LTs for the year. I have decided at assessment time to skip a Learning Target here and there, but I think the overall restructuring is something I’ll just do next year.

B. More frequent assessments.
I have never been good at remembering to give frequent quizzes. I’ll plan them, and then forget to announce them, and then it ends up being too close to the test over the whole unit, so…yeah. With SBG, though, I really want to give more frequent but shorter assessments. The biggest thing really is remembering to announce it to the students. I don’t know why that’s always been such a challenge for me. Right now it isn’t helped by the fact that I’m still figuring out how to pace things with math.

Those aren’t the only things I need to work on, but they’re the most glaring in my mind right now.

Off to a good start

Regular classes started on Wednesday. Despite my having tried to condense my “this is what the class looks like” stuff so I could get into actual content, I only had a few minutes for math in 3 of the classes, and didn’t get to it at all in the other two. That was a bit sad for me.

The main reason for that, though, was that I went ahead and introduced standards-based grading to the kids, and it took longer than I expected. (Amazingly, despite MY having mulled this thing over for several weeks, it was totally new to them!) But they are very enthusiastic about the concept. I was reading through my description, and they were kind of staring at me glassy-eyed, and then I stopped reading and said, “That means that if I give a test on Thursday, and you don’t really get it on Thursday, but over the weekend you practice and then you come in on Monday and show me, I will change your grade to show that you really do understand it.” In every single class, that was what got their attention. I think they’re currently thinking that it’s too good to be true. :)

I do have a few kids who seem worried about my not grading their homework. I reassured them that (1) they will have the answers ahead of time, so they’ll be able to see if they’re doing it correctly, (2) we will go over problems that confused them in class the next day, and (3) I will look over any individual student’s homework and give more specific feedback if he or she wants me to do so. Also, I’m keeping track of whether they’re doing the homework or not in an “ungraded” category in my grade book, just on a 0-1-2 scale, so that if I see they’re having trouble understanding, I have a record of their practice and can say “you need to try doing your homework” or “you’re already doing your homework, so let’s figure out another strategy to help you.” With all those things in place, the kids who were worried seemed satisfied.

I told the other high school math teacher about SBG, and she is on board and using it in her classes as well (though her implementation is a little different, like she’s using a 5-point scale where I’m using a 4-point one). I’ve also talked about it with teachers in other subject areas, and while they’re not yet drinking the kool-aid, they’re talking about how tasty it looks. :) One English teacher in particular is really interested in learning more about it with the goal of possibly switching to SBG for the second semester. Do you know of any English edubloggers using SBG? If so, let me know so I can point her to them to read.

I have about a million thoughts on how my first couple of days of actual math lessons went, but I don’t have the energy to post them right now, as Little Precious was up sick all last night. So I’ll just leave you all a picture of the door to my classroom:

SBG Question: Keep Moving Along?

I went to the school today, met with the person who’s taking on 7th grade social studies to give her my resources, met with a student to try to determine math placement, moved some stuff from my old room to my new, told one of my principals that I’m going to be using standards-based grading.

He had some questions.

The biggest thing he was worried about was this (and this is me trying to reword the question):

What about the student who doesn’t get these first few concepts? In a context where you are allowing for reassessment on those learning targets, does it make sense to keep moving along in the curriculum?

One thing I said in response was that in my experience, later math can illuminate earlier math. Sometimes you don’t truly understand a concept until you’re a few steps down the line and you see how it fits with other concepts.

Another thing I thought about since I left his office was that this isn’t an issue particular to a grading system. You’ve got kids who get left behind conceptually in a traditionally-graded classroom, too – more so, I’d argue, because of the whole “you didn’t learn it by Thursday’s test, too bad for you” approach. I think SBG encourages kids to go back and learn, or to get help learning, much more than the traditional system.

What thoughts do you guys have on this question?

Final assessment idea

I’m required to give a final assessment at the end of each semester. For my 9th and 10th graders, the final is worth 15% of the semester grade (with each of the quarters in that semester counting for 42.5%), and for 11th and 12th graders, the final is 20% (each quarter 40%). Not all that SBG-friendly, since it’s not something I can reassess.

BUT…we can choose to have the students do some sort of “exhibition” in lieu of an exam. This, I think, I can work with, and still stay true to the SBG philosophy.

So today I thought of something I could have the students do. It’s not totally processed in my mind, so there are probably pitfalls and things that don’t make sense. But here’s where I am with it so far.

  1. Students choose something they’re interested in. Ideally this is some sort of issue that is important to them.
  2. Students find numbers related to their issue. They may have to look online, they may have to go somewhere and take their own measurements, they may have to call someone in the field to ask for numbers.
  3. Students perform calculations on the numbers. At this point it will tie in with the Learning Targets for their course that semester, and they will have to demonstrate and explain how they have used a certain number of concepts. (Certain number from each unit, maybe? Not sure.)
  4. Students interpret their work. What does their work do to help us understand the issue better? Does it help us develop possible solutions? What action can they take now that they have done this work?
  5. Students develop a way to present their work – maybe an oral presentation, maybe a backboard for a “Math Fair,” I’m not sure yet.

Although the product (which would be a presentation of all the work) would determine their grade on the “final,” it’s something they would be working on over the course of the semester. I imagine setting due dates for the different parts of the project, requiring students to plan out what data they will look for before they go and get it, etc.; I’m not planning to throw this out there and say “do it.” I also expect that I would offer individual student conferences (formal and informal) so that they could get feedback on their work, make sure they really are demonstrating mastery of LTs through it (there’s that opportunity for reassessment), etc.

What do you guys think of this as a final assessment?

Starting to make LTs

Today has not been particularly productive; Little Precious had a fever of 104.7 at 2:30 this morning, so I have spent the day (after my class) taking her to the doctor and subsequently hanging out with a sick and clingy toddler.

Yesterday, though, I got through 3 chapters in the calculus textbook and set up Learning Targets. It feels like I have too many of them, but I don’t know that I really want to combine them, because I do want students to learn each item on the list. I borrowed heavily from one of the sample syllabi (pdf alert) that the College Board has up for AP Calc AB to create the Learning Targets; the course outline is aligned with the text I’ll be teaching from, so I used that as a starting point and just adapted a bit.

So take a look and let me know your thoughts on the first part of my LT list. I am thinking I’ll end up using problems that address multiple LTs. And…there was something else I was going to say here, but a few interruptions from Little Precious have made me forget what it was. Oh well.

SBG and cheating

I have another SBG question. At my school, in general if a student is cheating on an assessment, the student receives a zero as well as a disciplinary referral. How does that work with SBG?

Do you refuse to allow that student to reassess the LTs addressed on that quiz/test? That seems inconsistent with the goals of SBG.

I expect that the knowledge that they can reassess will probably reduce the temptation to cheat, because the student knows that if he doesn’t get it he can try again later. So it may be that it’s never an issue.

However, thinking about that brings me to a related question – students who are suspended are supposed to receive zeros on any work from the day(s) of the suspension. Again, it’s hard to know how to follow this policy and still use SBG. Suspensions are not something that happen frequently at my school, but they do happen. (Edit: Same goes for cheating incidents.)

Thoughts on these issues?

(By the way, I am loving reading everyone’s discussions over on Twitter, where I am @praxisofreflect. I am just a little hesitant to jump in myself. Blogging is already pushing me outside my comfort zone, so I’m working on it!)