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Preparing for SBG

July 17, 2012

Hey Math Blogotwittosphere (which, apparently, is the best blogotwittosphere out there – go us)! It feels like its been a while since I’ve focused my efforts to update this with math teaching material, but I think that’s all about to change in the next few weeks. My school starts in two weeks (YIKES!) and I’m in the process of finalizing some of the changes I want for next year. Here’s one issue I’m tackling: turning my classroom into an SBG machine. I’m excited!

What I Mean by SBG: I’m writing this paragraph after I’ve already having written the rest of this post because I realized what I’m doing isn’t  completely SBG. I’m still categorizing my grades and assigning weights. Some types of assignments will have their own separate grades (ie: projects). So, for my own sake, I think I need to clarify what I think of as Standards-Based Grading (SBG).

SBG means the emphasis of the course is on performing well on targeted assessments which I have meticulously planned out. I have dissected my curriculum into discrete chunks and assess on those particular skills. My students keep track of their progress and are encouraged to reassess. Right now, I’m leaning towards a single assessment with the full range of difficulty but students may reassess as many times as they want (as opposed to old skills showing up on future exams but with harder questions). Before they can reassess, they complete a ‘Retake Ticket’, which is a collection of problems that I feel best represent the skills I want them to master. They must complete this correctly before being allowed to reassess (ps: I did Retake Tickets last year too to great success).

Oh – and pretty much no partial credit. Our math department motto: “Wrong is wrong”.

My perception of true SBG is that every other type of assignment is not entered into the gradebook, but explicit and targeted feedback is given. Every assignment is meaningful and students find value in doing them for the feedback they receive. I will be doing this for everything except projects, which will be counted in a separate category and graded with a rubric. I believe there are certain skills and behaviors that I want students to be able to demonstrate outside the confines of a pen-and-paper assessment (ie: habits of mind) and I want a way to assess these skills as well. We’ll see how it works – I’m always very conscious of grade inflation.

So, I guess all of this to say: I’m trying to implement the frequent and targeted assessments, encouraged reassessments, and everything-else-is-formative aspects of SBG, while still keeping a few things separate (like projects and possibly notebooks).

First thing I did: Make a preliminary list of skills I want to assess. Here it is:

I don’t know what to think of the length – it’s got 52 individual skills separated into 18 categories. Things like proof and argument are peppered throughout the skills instead of being their own individual skills since I think they need to be grounded in some sort of mathematical context instead of being taught in a vacuum.

Question: If you’re a Geometry teacher who’s tried SBG, what does your list of skills look like? How many did you assess in a single year? Does anything seem to be blatantly missing from my list?

Second thing I did: Analyzed the things I graded and collected from last year and tried to figure out how to adapt them into an SBG grading scale. One thing I like about SBG is the complete emphasis on performing well on the assessments and that the student is always completely aware of what they will be tested on (and, in fact, keep track of their progress themselves). This means pretty much everything else becomes formative assessment, which means (1) I give feedback/mine it for data, and (2) it does not contribute to their grade. So, I need to figure out which of my past routines (exit tickets, bellwork, homework, projects, etc) are things that I’m comfortable becoming formative assessments and which things I feel are necessary to demonstrate mastery and should therefore have some sort of evaluative grade assigned to them.

This is where I’m the most unsure. I started by making a table of things I did last year and how I could adapt them into an SBG grading scale:

It’s already clear to me that exit tickets and homework will become formative feedback – in fact, I doubt I’ll even collect their homework. My homework assignments are usually procedural practice problems that are intended for their benefit rather than as an argument to me that they understand the material (example of typical homework assignment). I’m leaning heavily towards assigning the homework, waiting a few days, then posting the answers and letting them check at their convenience.

What is less clear to me is what to do with bellwork. Here was my routine from last year: students come in with bellwork problems on the board. When the bell rings, I go around the room and stamp people who have already started working on the assignment (in principle –  in practice, I became a lot more lax as the year progressed – it’s one of the things I plan to be more consistent about this year). Then they take out a colored pen and we talk about the problems as a class – they self-correct their answers. At the end of the week, I collect the bellwork and grade it – the stamp at the beginning of class acts as an extra credit point, and showing full corrections can also bring up your grade. In other words: as long as you are present and paying attention, there isn’t any reason for you to miss these points. Students can work with each other and ask me questions too. These are teaching problems, not evaluative problems.

I’m not sure how to transfer this into an SBG grading scale. From a purely philosophical level, it shouldn’t count as anything – nothing about this procedure provides an argument that students actually know the material – they may have copied from a friend or waited for the class to discuss the answers. However, the act of (1) starting work before the bell rings (which, honestly, helps with classroom management) and (2) correcting their own mistakes (which encourages reflective thought) are two things I want to reward students for doing. One thing I’m considering is making bellwork a separate category worth 5% of their overall grade where each day of bellwork is worth two possible points: one point for having the stamp and another point for having all the correct answers somewhere on the page (so it doesn’t matter if they were corrected or not).

I’m also really leaning towards having students actively construct a notebook for my class. Over the summer I visited a friend of mine who teaches in Seattle who uses the Core-Plus Mathematics Textbooks which is heavy on letting problems guide the learning and on real-world problems as the catalyst for discovering mathematics. I like the textbooks a lot. Anyway – part of teaching with this textbook is every student creates a toolkit, which is a personalized journal of all the important theorems and procedures that are discovered through the problems in the textbook. These toolkits are very consciously designed and become vital in a student’s problem-solving process. I like this idea because I didn’t use a textbook at all last year, so having students construct their own textbook sounds really meaningful and appealing to me. I might have every student buy a composition notebook at the beginning of the year, which will become their record of theorems from the course. A friend also threw out the idea of letting students use their toolkits on tests, provided we are explicit enough to not allow example problems within the toolkits themselves – I’m becoming more amenable to the idea the more I think about it.

So, with all of that, potential grading scale:

70% – Evaluative & Performance Assessments
10% – Final Exam
15% – Projects & Notebook Checks
5% – Bellwork
0% – Formative Assessments (Exit Ticket, Homework, certain classroom activities)

Also, I went browsing on the internet and HOLY CRAP I’M TOTALLY STEALING THIS!  Credit to MissCalcul8 and her SBG Wisdom.

So….. thoughts?

  1. I’m also considering some kind of hybrid SBG format for this coming school year. I already do ‘test corrections’ but the process needs some improvement. I was thinking that I would start allowing at least one retake on quizzes and give students a time-frame during which specific individual quizzes should be taken to allow students some choice. I was also consider implementing interactive notebooks instead of the guided note-taking that I already have been using for years but am uncertain as I’m already trying to change so many things at once that I don’t exactly have a clear picture in mind yet …

    I read over your list of concepts for Geometry; here’s the document I helped put together about a year ago for our school (haven’t edited/revised since then) if you want something for comparison purposes:

    keep in mind this is a non-textbook dependent outline of the course but not necessarily set-up for SBG – let me know if you have any questions, comments, or other feedback

  2. Kristin permalink

    I used SBG last year in Geometry. I used the California Geometry standards…22 of them (link below). I added a couple of Algebra review concepts to the list, too.

    I also used the Cal State Test blueprints, which told me the number of questions that would be on the state test for each standard, to weight the concepts. For example, G6.0 about the triangle inequality theorem, only has one question on the test, while G21.0 about circles, has 5 questions. So, in my gradebook, G21 has a multiplier of 5, while G6 had a multplier of 1.

    My SBG style has been evolving over the years, but this is what I did last year and will continue to do next year.

    Standards tests are usually very short…3 questions, one basic, one proficient, and one advanced (to match the state test…which is very important for us because we are in trouble!). I graded them out of 4 points. 2/3 correct is 3.5 (equivalent to a B – proficient). 1/3 correct is a 3 (C – basic). 0/3 correct, but tried, is 2 (below basic). If life worked out the way i wanted it to, they would all be able to do the basic question, most would get the proficient, and some would get the advanced, but, sometimes they could do the proficient and not the basic…or even the advanced and not the basic, so thats why I reverted back to scores.

    I gave them out several times per week (since they are so short). Sometimes I would have two concepts…one on the front and one on the back. Usually I would give a standard test for the first time soon after we finished the topic. I would reteach, and then some days later I would reassess. If they wanted to reassess again, then they would have to see me before and/or after school.

    Here is another thing I do differently. I used to have the students keep their higher grade, and once they proved advanced, they wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. However, I noticed the students forgot the concepts when they weren’t using them. So I switched it up 1 1/2 years ago and now I reassess all year…i try to reassess past standards every 1-2 months. And whatever their new score is, goes in the gradebook. Which I think makes sense, because if they really were advanced in that standard, then they should still be advanced. Of course they can always come a reassess with me before and/or after school.

    And some of the standards have to be reassessed all year, because some of my topics lasted of the whole year. For example, standard G7 has topics from the beginning of the year throught the end of the year. I would start the G.7 test with only questions that were taught and changed it as we learned new things.

    Grade scale: 90% Standards Assessments, 10% Other stuff (projects, worksheets, classwork)

    I use all of this for Algebra, also.

    I’m still working on getting kids not to come to me at the end of the grading period, wanting to reassess everything. And now with the multiplier, they only want to reassess the ones worth the most. I am still looking for answers!

    • Kristin,

      THANK YOU for sharing this – you’ve given me some really good ideas. I like your 3-layered assessments (basic, proficient, advanced). I’m also glad you shared your reassessment strategy – I think this is the part I’m still trying to figure out.

      I think the thing I’m struggling with the most is how to reassess – I’m also afraid of students becoming proficient and then forgetting. But, I also like the idea that once students master a concept, they don’t have to worry about it anymore – I feel like there’s some serious motivation going on there that students have ownership of. I want a way to balance both of these.

      Here’s what I’m thinking: I grade skills on a 0-5 scale, with 0 being a blank page/absence and 5 being 100% – I still need to figure out everything in between. When I assess, I include previous skills – If a student has earned at least a 4, they don’t have to do that portion of the test. Otherwise, they need to at least try something. BUT – around the middle of the semester, I give a ‘midterm’ which has a ton of the skills we’ve done so far. This is more akin to a traditional test in terms of length and number of items. What I’m looking for is continued growth OR major forgetfulness, which I’ll measure as having your new score drop at least 2 points from your previous score (so a 5 goes to a 3, or a 4 goes to a 2). If your score drops by at least 2 points, you keep the lower score. Otherwise, you keep the higher score. So, even if you slipped a little bit (didn’t quite get 100%), you won’t be overly punished by it. This applies *only* to the midterm.

      A student can always reassess if they want – however, in order to do so, they must complete a ‘retake ticket’, which is essentially a collection of all the problems they need to know in order to be successful. They need to complete one of these every time they want to reassess. The goal being: if you *really* know the material in this packet, you should do well on the reassessment. I also don’t let students take the reassessment until I’m satisfied with their work on the retake ticket, which may take several weeks (and has happened in the past). I’m hoping that this cuts down on the number of times a student will want to reassess, since the goal is to get it right the first time so they don’t have to complete a big packet to get it right the second time.

      So…. more ideas.

      • I really like your ‘compromise’ on moving grades down … only on major exams (quarterly or mid … what about final?) and only if understanding has ‘significantly’ dropped …

        a student can also improve their score out of 5 using the major exam based on your “continued growth” phrase, right?

      • Aaron,

        Yes – your score can always go up. I’m still figuring this out…

        Again, the issue I’m trying to address is that I don’t want students to forget, so I want ways to hold them accountable. There is a tension between this goal and the intrinsic motivation of SBG to achieve mastery and then not have to worry about a set of skills anymore. I want students to have that feeling of accomplishment and sigh of relief. This may be a tension I’m making up in my head purely because I haven’t tried SBG yet.

        Right now, having a midterm & final expressly for this purpose seems like it addresses this goal. And maybe after a semester of this, I’ll realize this isn’t actually something I need to worry about – that the whole philosophy behind SBG ensures mastery and this whole ‘take it for the test then forget it’ is just me being paranoid. I dunno – it’ll all come down to how I implement it, so I hope I get it right.

  3. My standards only count about 40% because of departmental policies. Not ideal, but I’ve grown to like that students are graded on a few other things too (I don’t think synthesis is tested well with pure SBG). So just wanted to say that I agree you can have the ethos of SBG without grading 100% standards

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